The Real ER
While growing up and watching reenactments of emergencies on television shows like ER and Grey’s Anatomy, I was certain working in an Emergency Room was where I would pursue my career, and as of today, I am an Emergency Medical Technician in a Level III Trauma Center. However, after watching actors play doctors and nurses on TV and then working beside real ones administering life-saving measures, I should mention that by living vicariously through TV, we never have to experience the extreme emotions resulting from actual situations. Yes, we may imagine what certain circumstances must be like during any given episode, but we don’t feel the liberating relief of a life saved or the crushing agony of one lost.
A series of vignettes might best clarify my point, and I’ll start with a terrified young woman running through the entrance doors of the Emergency Room cradling her 23-day-old son. She frantically yells out for help because her son’s lips are a frightening blue and his body is limp. Staff quickly rushes him back to Room 3, and he stops breathing. A code blue alarm begins ringing, and staff floods into the Emergency Room. After no more can be done, the screaming mother’s helpless family picks her up off the floor and escorts her away from her lifeless baby boy.
Two rooms down, other staff members sulk and whisper to each other, wondering how they can comfort a crying husband and his wife, who is twelve weeks pregnant and has miscarried again for the fifth time. Right next door, two armed police officers stand outside of Room 6, awaiting a domestic violence victim. She has purplish choke marks around her neck, red swollen eyes, and black mascara running down her face. Her boyfriend was arrested on scene and is now facing charges.
Across the hall in Room 7, a 19-year-old woman is being admitted into the intensive care unit because she thought her life wasn’t worth living anymore and overdosed on a bottle of pills. She’s lifeless, intubated, and only breathing by machine. Her parents stand next to her bed holding each other, crying, brokenhearted, and asking god where they went wrong. Room 8 has a scared mother comforting her 12-year-old daughter with an extremely painful headache. After MRI results come back showing a brain lesion, the staff must break the unfair news to the family. Alongside the scared mother and daughter, two more patients in Rooms 9 and 10 are suffering the rapid onset of chest pain radiating throughout their bodies. Room 9 gets quickly transported upstairs to Interventional Radiology where they will remove a blockage from his coronary artery, and Room 10 will walk out of the Emergency Room today, relieved his pain was only angina.
Further down the hall, concerned paramedics rapidly push their gurney to Room 17. They’re carrying a pulseless 35-year-old man being administered to by a tear struck EMT doing chest compressions. After thirty-five minutes of resuscitations maneuvers by ER staff, the intubated man begins fighting the tube down his throat and finally opens his eyes. Three more ambulances patch in through our dispatch radios. The first one arrives with a confused 59-year-old woman who passed out at work. She suffers left-sided deficits, and after her CT scan, she is admitted with a major stroke. The second ambulance has a young boy who fell off a roof while fetching his baseball and shattered his femur. The third one carries a distressed man who fell down a flight of stairs while helping his one year old granddaughter learn how to walk. He has internal bleeding and won’t walk out of the hospital alive.
Meanwhile, Room 12’s X-ray results have come back, and they show the patient has a foreign object in his colon; the operating staff will be here shortly to take him to surgery. In Room 14, a furious 17-year-old male looks like he’s ready to explode. He may have lost his scholarship because he was playing basketball and tore his Achilles tendon. He’s being measured for a short-leg posterior stirrup splint, and he will be in crutches for long period of time.
In Room 15, a 39-year-old man sits with two tourniquets wrapped around a bicep. He severed two arteries with a knife while doing housework. Blood will not stop projecting from his arm, and to save his life, a technician will hold pressure until he goes to surgery. Tense security guards gather around Room 18 where a 50-year-old meth addict has powers like the Incredible Hulk, and it takes seven of them to strap her to the bed. Ambulance #5 quickly proceeds to Room 19 with a woman who stopped riding her bike because she felt sick. She called 911 and ended up in the Emergency Room with a brain bleed. CT results have come back positive for a subarachnoid hemorrhage, and she will be transported to a Level I trauma center to be further evaluated by a neurologist.
When I started working in the Trauma Center, I didn’t think about the emotions I would experience, the ones that weren’t addressed in my job description. I never realized how I would feel when breaking the chest cavity of a 35-year-old man during chest compressions, or how intensely my heart would ache while watching a mother lose her son in front of our very eyes. Never did I imagine how emotional I would become when I couldn’t save the life of someone who wanted to live but I could save the life of someone who didn’t. I didn’t know I would smile, laugh, cry, and pray with my patients as if they were my own families. I do know that these experiences have helped me see how precious life really is.