I sometimes wonder what the commotion of our emergency department must look like through the eyes of a patient or their family. Imagine walking down the hallway to visit Aunt Lucy only to have a half-naked patient, his gown loosely-tied and his junk hanging out, walking at you from the other direction. Or seeing an unresponsive patient on a cot being rushed into a room with a paramedic sitting on top of him, performing CPR. Or hearing the drunk patient in the next room violently vomiting and gagging while filling-in the space between with obscenities.
The imagery and sounds that come from our busy shifts must haunt some of these visitors not familiar with the day-to-day workings of an ER.
Better yet, I wonder what these same patients and their families think when they see our staff's occasional blase' attitude. It has to be something pretty remarkable and out of the ordinary to get us to cringe or flinch or react, it seems. Which, I'm sure, comes across as uncaring to some. Trust me, though, it's not that the staff doesn't care, it's just that with the constant bombardment of these scenes, we have become somewhat immune to being caught off-guard.
When was the last time I did a double-take, you ask? Easy. It was two weeks ago. I had been standing at a counter in the nurses' station, finishing a chart, when I looked up to find one of our male techs helping a female patient stand from her cot. She had needed to go the bathroom and had insisted on using the hallway bathroom. She was a short but heavy woman, mid-forties, frosted blond hair, wearing a gown and nothing else. I presumed it had been tied up in the back.
As the tech helped this woman out of her room and down the hallway, away from me, I glanced to make sure she was steady on her feet. She was. But after what I saw, I wasn't. This woman's very robust ass was hanging out of her gown. Evidently, her gown hadn't been tied correctly. Now, I can handle the robust ass part. That's not a problem. If I've seen one robust ass in my career, I've seen a hundred. But what made me look twice at this one was the very tiny triangular patch of bright orange at the small of this patient's back.
"Noooooo," I thought to myself, "that can't be a thong. Can it?" A small part of me, although not a fan of them, hoped it was a "tramp stamp," a tattoo. For some reason, I would have accepted this a little better. As much as I hate tramp stamps, I hate thongs even that much more.
So, what did I do next? Heck yeah--I looked a third time. And disappointingly, I realized that the itsy-bitsy patch of orange was fabric. No tramp stamp for this classy patient. Straining my eyes, I couldn't see the rest of the thong, though, as it seemed to disappear among the fleshy cheeks.
With my mouth gaping, I watched the tech and the patient arrive at the bathroom, where he helped the patient in before stepping out and giving her some privacy. Afterwards, I looked behind where I was standing, only to find one nurse, one radiology tech, and two family members from another room (they had been asked to step into the hallway while a portable chest x-ray was being taken) standing in the hallway, watching the same scene I had just witnessed.
Their mouths were gaping, too.
I walked to the tech waiting outside the bathroom for this patient. "Hey, Mike," I said, "you have to cover up this patient when she comes out. Her backside and thong are hanging out for everybody to see."
"A thong?" he asked, "No way." I understood his amazement--this patient wasn't our typical, narcissistic thong wearer. "Trust me," I answered, pointing down to the family members looking our way, "they got a free show."
Mike ran and got one of our scratchy hospital-issued blankets and tried to cover up this patient's backside as she exited the bathroom, but she refused. "Get that thing off me," she yelled, "I don't care who sees me!" Good for her for being proud of her robust ass. If only we could all be that confident.
Mike earned his paycheck that day. As the patient walked back to her room, Mike grasped her elbow for support while using his other hand to hold the back edges of her gown together. No easy feat on his part, but he handled it like a champ. Single-handedly, he got this movie's rating reduced from an "R" to "PG.
Sometimes, the noise can be just as disturbing. Just a few days ago, we had a pleasantly demented elderly woman sent to us from a local nursing home for a variety of medical complaints. Usually, if we can, we place this type of patient near the nursing station to keep a closer watch on them (in the event they try to climb out of their beds). Unfortunately, though, this patient was prone to frequently screaming out "Help me!" Every few minutes. In a loud, high-pitched, shrilly voice. For three full hours. Behind her partially-closed glass doors.
Imagine being one of the patients or families who bore witness to these screams. After a few minutes, the staff easily got used to them (although I'm sure most of them would have preferred a little more quiet). I'll bet, though, that it was probably somewhat disconcerting for several families to think a patient was screaming out for help and not finding the staff reacting.
Unbelievably, about forty-five minutes before Ms. "Help me!" was discharged back to her nursing home, an elderly demented man was brought to our ER and placed in a parallel hallway near the same nursing station. And can you guess what he was prone to yelling out? "Owww!" Yes, "owww!" Drawn out in a raspy, deep, masculine voice.
Suddenly, we had these two patients prompting each other. "Help me!" was followed by "Owww!" "Owww!" was followed by "Help me!" This duo had impeccable, precise timing in their forty-five minutes of togetherness.
We all shook our heads. The hilarity of the moment, unfortunately, was tinged with some sadness to the reality of their situations. In another thirty years, I thought, that could be me uncontrollably yelling out something. Something suave, I can only hope.
After the woman was discharged, the elderly man continued with his "Owww"s for a few more minutes before tapering off completely. Maybe he realized, through his dementia, that he was Simon without his Garfunkel. Or Hall without his Oates. Better yet, Ike without his Tina.
As for the patients and families that heard this duo's chorus, we offered several reassurances that these patients were okay and not in any pain. Hopefully, the families we didn't get a chance to offer an explanation to won't be scared off from returning the next time they need emergency care.
The families that saw the orange thong, though? I don't expect we'll ever see them again...
As always, big thanks for reading. Any of you have a funny story to share? I hope you have a great weekend...