Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Reality.

This is week four in the Emergency Room.

Because the registration routine is being experimented with, the Triage bays started filling up again. However, this week, it was a lot smoother--I think mostly because of how Ms. Patricia handled the situation. Ms. Patricia is probably my favorite nurse to work with in the Emergency Room. She's kind to all the patients, maintaining that difficult balance between directness and manners. Not to mention, she's funny--today, she mimicked Santa, as she watched us, her "elves" scramble around the room to assist incoming patients. Her accent is also the best.

Anyway, working today was really interesting.

Walking into Emergency, I met a friend who was assisting her grandfather into a wheelchair. I've known Nancy since middle school, and so it was almost a happy reunion until we remembered the purpose of her visit. It was an interesting experience--where I had to sever personal relations to act professionally.

I also worked with some seriously ill people today. In one case, there was a young man who continued to vomit blood to the point where I brought him a wheelchair. He was rushed to see a doctor, rather than sit the registration process.

Not only that, I worked with a woman who could not stop sobbing--she was in too much pain. But she was forced to wait in the bays for over an hour because of the back up in the Triage.

I suppose health clearance from the Mecklenburg County jails are also a little more common than I realized--today, another inmate was brought in. Handcuffed. Escorted by an officer with two firearms.

But by far the most memorable experience today occurred near the end of my shift. A young woman came in with her mother, clearly very pregnant. I barely recognized her face, but I realized it was another friend from my middle school. She looked exhausted, stressed, anxious, changed. We were friends, but she and I both went to different high schools, and gradually drifted apart.

I don't think she recognized me at all.

When I asked what her emergency was, she answered by saying that she began contractions this morning.

When I asked her how many months she had been pregnant, she answered, "8 months. 32 weeks."

Then it really hit me. If she had been carrying her baby for 8 months, she would have been 15 (we had birthdays that weren't too far apart). Ironically, Dr. Phil (the TV channel that was on in the waiting room) had been talking about teenage pregnancies and reality shows about their situations (ie. Sixteen and Pregnant). This was much more "in your face" than a reality show--it was a reality. She wasn't even sixteen.

I knew that she was pregnant from rumors I had heard earlier, but this face to face encounter really shocked me to my core. And I sincerely hoped to God that the other rumor I heard was not true: that the father of the child was no longer part of the picture. Her delivery date coincided with the first day of school; what if she had to drop out? What might become of her child?

I barely recognized her. She didn't recognize me. How drastically, unrecognizably life can change within 2 years.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Chatting on the Phone to Girlfriends

My third week in the Emergency Room. The people moved a little slower than usual; the staff on shift were new to the job. It was uncomfortable seeing how slowly the Emergency Room moved, when people started actually filling the waiting room--normally the pace moves quickly enough to where there are only a few people waiting to be registered or treated.

This week, I noticed an unusual amount of Spanish speakers. Normally, there are one or two Spanish speakers who come to the Emergency Room who have difficulty speaking English, but this week, there were at least 10 appointments during my shift where a Spanish speaker needed assistance to communicate with the staff.

The unusual number of Spanish speakers really opened my eyes to how useful some of the things we were learning in school were--I could understand and communicate with the people, rather than bark "Que?" or "Mucho grande?" like Miss Ronda (God bless her heart) who was sitting at the desk today.

Miss Ronda was an interesting head nurse. Incredibly blunt, forceful, but like a courteous matron, she whirled around the Triage and the Emergency Room encouraging the newer faculty. She never used euphemisms to try and calm people down, but rather told them the truth, immediately and objectively.

This brings me to the other faculty. I've worked with many different nurses before; some nurses are more relaxed about helping the patients, while others are much more careful and busy. But this week, I noticed something that actually upset me about a certain group of nurses. In the Emergency Room Triage, where patients were to be seated for treatment after they had been registered, the nurses usually try and clear the area as quickly as possible. The nurses in question would sit at the desk, and use the phone at the desk to chat with their girlfriends. I would catch snatches of their conversations: "Belk is having a huuuuuuuuuge sale today, girl!" "Mm, mm, mm... I've gained sooo much weight hehehe, I don't even know if my man recognizes me!" among other chatter. Other than just chatting on the phone, some of the nurses even congregated around the desk, sitting in the seats the patients were supposed to sit in.

The Emergency Room Triage started to get backed up. When I was done registering people, that means that there was no room to bring them in to be treated. Each of the bays (waiting areas for the patients) were filled, and the nurses in the Triage were not replacing the papers, tissues, etc like they should be. To reassure the patients, I said, "The Triage is getting a little backed up, but the nurses will be with you shortly. I'll put you in one of the bays while you're waiting."

One of the nurses, who had stopped chattering on the phone, overheard me say that to one of the many patients in the Emergency Room. She pulled me aside, her expression stony and indignant, and said, "Next time, you just tell the patients that we'll be with them shortly."

That was the upsetting part. If the nurses aren't quickly moving the patients to get treated because they are too busy socializing, they shouldn't be indignant about the truth.

The nurses chatter in the Emergency Room while a man is wheezing, having trouble breathing, and his family is panicking...


My second week in the Emergency Room. The people moved in and out of the Triage area quickly, but one person remained in my mind for a longer period of time.

There was an inmate chained to a wheelchair. His midsection was wrapped in chains attached to the wheelchair, while his hands remained in handcuffs, and his ankles attached to the pedals. His orange uniform was emblazoned with the words "Charlotte Mecklenburg County Jail" in all capital letters. A burly, stoic looking security guard escorted him in, and wheeled him around.

The surprising thing is, this man was much more courteous and softspoken compared to many of the others who were registered to the Emergency Room. You could barely hear him speak when he answered your questions, and his general appearance seemed more comparable to a kindly middle-aged man, than a fearful criminal who deserved to be chained to a wheelchair.

He had greying/silvering/white-ish hair, and ice blue eyes, and was not unlike common representations of Santa Claus, but not round at all. His bony wrists and frail looking, thin physique was a reminder that jail was not a comfortable or welcoming place.

He was wheeled away for emergency care, and I wouldn't see him again, even while I was making rounds, but I couldn't help but think:

Why was this man, so kindly and well, normal looking, chained multiple times to his wheelchair?

But it just occurred to me, that those chains may not have been holding him back in the present, but binding him to what he did in the past.