The role of anyone who works in healthcare is the care of the whole patient, which encompasses not only their physical wellbeing but also their emotional wellbeing. Emergency care upholds these values, though to an outsider this can often go unnoticed since the sole focus can sometimes appear to be on a patient’s immediate physical wellbeing. But those life saving actions, taken at perilous moments, have wide reaching implications that extend far beyond the physical. I volunteered at a trauma center for three years before entering medical school, and this experience changed my whole understanding of emergency medical care as well as medicine as a whole. As a volunteer we were assigned to one patient until they were stable, and it was here that I met patients, families, and medical staff that would stick with me for the rest of my life.
It was 1am, in the middle of the week and I was volunteering on the night shift. We got the call that two ambulances were incoming from a car crash. As soon as this news came through the already very busy emergency room began to organize itself. The attendants prepared a room, the nurses got stationed to take vitals, the lead attending was there and everyone waited in the room for the ambulances to arrive. There was a collective calm, every person had a very set role and they were all highly trained at it. I think this is one of the first lessons I learned: that emergency care takes a team and everyone needs to work in harmony, towards one goal, and that is the care of the patient. The doors burst open; it is a husband and wife, an elderly couple who had been in a car accident. I was assigned to help with both. They were placed on gurneys and the intricate teamwork began. The nurses did vitals quickly while checking with paramedics to assess how the vitals had fluctuated since the accident occurred. The physician talked to the patients and consulted with the team to decide on the critical next steps. As is common practice they decided the first step was an X-ray; the X-ray team was ready and waiting. Teamwork is such a vital part of emergency medical care; each person on the team has a special skill to provide but they also need to listen to each other and work in harmony. This is an incredible feat and I think one driven by a single common goal, saving the patients’ life. Even something as simple as lifting a patient onto a gurney takes a whole team.
Soon after arrival the elderly man was not doing well and went into cardiac arrest. Time froze and everyone turned their focus onto him. Anyone available lined up and began to perform CPR, until the defibrillator could be placed. I remember a nurse turning to me and saying get in line. I realized at that moment although I had no medical experiences, my first aid training was all that was needed. That was my second lesson; everyone has a role to play, and every action however small can assist in saving someone’s life, and that if you are able to give care you must.
I realized the immediate nature of emergency medicine. Some may think that is stating the obvious, but you only really understand the meaning of immediate when you witness an urgent situation as it develops. Fast and precise care may seem short term, but it is not. All these short-term measures give someone another chance on life. As the man’s condition stabilized, I could hear his wife crying and thanking the nurses for saving for husband’s life.
In the end as a current medical student and aspiring doctor, I feel the lessons I learned in the emergency room will stay with me throughout my career. To perform emergency medicine it is paramount to have a unique mixture of caring and compassion, with a laser-like focus on the immediate priorities of the situation. Long term and short term care become one in the same in the emergency room. Emergency teams are highly skilled, but are also adept at staying calm under pressure; every decision they make has wider implications. They keep the implication of their success or failure very much at the forefront; they know the stakes and rise to them. Often times we talk of emergency medicine as if it occurs in a vacuum, a snippet of time just spent stabilizing a patient. But the far-reaching implications of giving someone back life, not only for the patient but for the family can never be overlooked. Emergency medicine in the end is so much more then the actions people take such as Basic Life Support it is actions and decisions that will last a lifetime.