Thursday, December 27, 2012

I See Your Black Friday, And Raise You

I worked Christmas Eve and Christmas this year. I volunteered, actually. Since I'm not a parent and my family all live out of town, I had no reason to be anywhere to greet Santa. I thought I'd be nice and man the ER, so the nurses who do have kids could spend the time at home.

That turned out to be a fine decision. Nobody wants to be in the hospital on Christmas, so actual sick people avoid us from the start of the weekend. Even the drug seekers were apparently discouraged by the freezing wind and icy sidewalks. On those two shifts combined, I think I cared for about nine patients. I earned most of my time-and-a-half holiday pay just by weighing down my chair while I munched Christmas cookies.

Those were an easy couple of shifts and I may do the same again next year.

But then! Being a relatively new emergency nurse, I made the mistake of agreeing to work the day after Christmas, too.

That's when all those patients, the ones who didn't come in over the last several days, suddenly show up all at once. And because they delayed their visit so they could stay home with the family, they're sicker, and everything contagious has infected the entire house. Plus they're joined by all the newly ill patients who drank too many quarts of eggnog, or had an allergic reaction to fruitcake, or felt heart palpitations after arguing with their kids' new boyfriends. Doubleplus, there's the usual crop of drug seekers and STI screens and requests for pregnancy tests. All of those people, all to the ER, all together, all day long.

We broke traffic records again. I lost count of how many patients I cared for personally. I'm not sure I can even remember them all. I remember the clammy toddler with a fever of 105ยบ F, because that was my first IV start on somebody his size. And I remember the asthmatic teenager with blue lips, because she was the most cyanotic living person I've ever seen. Several of those "firsts" and "mosts" stick out in my head.

But I can't say anything about the other thirty-odd patients I laid hands on. I devoted close attention to each one while they were with me, and asked lots of questions and gave careful care, but after they left, they all kind of blurred together. Patients, triage, vital signs, lab tests and EKGs and blood and urine and x-rays, flat out all day long. We didn't keep an open room for more than 10 minutes my entire shift. Half the time, we had more patients in the department than we actually have beds. The waiting room didn't empty out until nearly midnight. I did 6 miles of walking and wore a hole in my socks. It's a good thing I ate breakfast because I did thirteen hours without a lunch break.

Nobody coded. Nobody died. Several were admitted to the hospital, but in stable condition. Remarkably few got impatient and left before seeing the doctor. In terms of results it was a great day. I'm just tired and dehydrated and I ache like I've been beaten up.

That must be why they call it Boxing Day.

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