Life in an Emergency Department
On reception duty - Life in an Emergency Department
A tall, spiky haired lady stands at my desk. She looks around, then leans forward theatrically, over-enunciating her words. " Erm, hello. I've got some material stuck up my flute." Hmmm. One of those. " I wondered if any of your nurses might have a special instrument that would help remove it." I ask how long she's had the problem. " Oh, since first thing this morning," she says. " I was cleaning my flute, when somehow the material got jammed." She lifts a black box onto my desk, and opens it to reveal, yes, a flute. " I think you need a music shop," I tell her.
Father and son are in next . The son's limping badly and trying not to cry. Dad looks equally upset, saying," We was only play wrestling, love, but I think I've broken his toe." I turn to the son to ask , " And how old are you ?" His face flushes. " Thirty-one," he mutters. "Yes, old enough to know better."
I'm lucky that this is a small town emergency department, and I cover the reception desk some Saturday mornings. Weekend nights must be challenging in large hospitals. It's disappointing how many people misuse the service, and pop along with a sore throat they've had for days.
Tiny, exotic nurse Lola scuttles back in from her break. She swears she never exercises, but it's possible the speed she talks burns mega-calories. " OMG I've just had a six piece breakfast from the canteen plus a giant chocolate bar plus an enormous coffee with four sugars so I feel well good, all hyped up and ready to go, but I'll get a massive energy slump later and I'll have to have a monster sh*t and I'll be all hot and bothered and go bright red and wonder why I ate all that. Story of my life." Thanks for sharing.
An ambulance pulls up outside. A smartly dressed woman emerges, comes over to reception. " They said they'll be out in a minute," she says uncertainly.. " I need to give you my husband's details." The chap, Dave, is forty-two years old. As the minutes tick by, I know they're not going to be bringing him in. She knows too. " He's dead, isn't he?" She's not really asking me. " Let's just see what happens," I say, and sit her down.
" I need to phone our son, Simon," she says. Apparently he is at University three hours away. " I won't tell him over the phone. I'll say, Dad's ill, don't panic, but please come straight away. And I'll have to call Dave's mum."
" One of the doctors will speak to you soon," I tell her. " You'll know more then." She smiles sadly. " Oh, I know," she says. " I know." Forty- two years old, I think, it's no age. I excuse myself as another ambulance arrives. It's almost a relief to leave her. Then I see two ambulances have arrived together . Not a good sign.
The first ambulance holds two shell-shocked young parents, both in floods of tears. The second carries the reason for their tears. A cot death victim. The parents are ushered into a side room, where I have to take details of the baby. Between hiccuppy sobs, the father manages to mumble, " Daisy." I come unstuck asking Daisy's date of birth. Today's her date of death. She's six months old. Suddenly, forty-two years seems like a good option.
Next in are a married couple. He does the talking, as she has a can of peaches stuck to her lip. " The wife was opening the can, like, and when she'd made a little hole, she fancied drinking some of the juice so it didn't spill. Damn thing trapped her lip, and she squeals when I try to pull it off. " After a long and embarrassing wait huddled in a corner, the woman is seen by a doctor. He goes to the kitchen, gets a can opener, and makes a small hole in the other side of the can. Vacuum released, lady extricated. Years of medical training went in to that.
A young dad arrives looking sheepish and presents his cute four-year-old son. " Sorry to bother you," he says," My wife insisted I bring him in. She's at home with our new baby, she's making a fuss about the lad being too pale." The little fellow smiles. He's certainly pale. They sit quietly in the waiting room playing with Lego. Later in the shift, I hear the boy's being admitted. He has leukemia. I think of his lovely smile, of the young mum back home waiting for news, and send a little prayer for them.
A frazzled mum turns up with her toddler son, who's sporting a cut to the forehead, along with an impressive lump. Gran's come too, and it's just as well. The mum starts crying as she tells how junior fell over, then she suddenly vomits into a waste bin. Gran momentarily drops the tissue she's been holding over the cut, which starts to bleed again. Mum turns white as a sheet and crumples to the floor. Guess we've got two for the price of one.
The next man comes in with a badly gashed leg. He's taken straight to a cubicle, and the nurses quickly assess him before I go to take his details. When I pop in, he's down to his underpants, and a nurse produces a hyperdermic needle. " Just a little prick," she says. He winks at her. " That may be," he says, " But it's what you do with it that counts."
And so the patients keep rolling in. This is life in an emergency department. There's always something different round the corner, people needing assistance and reassurance. Sometimes a sticking plaster will do the trick. Sometimes their visit marks the start of heartache. I take my hat off to the doctors and nurses, and am glad there is some small way that I can help.