I’m an RN. I recently completed 8 months of ER nursing, and every time I would tell someone in the community about my position, I would receive one of two responses.
Example One: “Wow, that must be so tough. I could never do that.”
Example Two: “You know, I was in the ER a couple months ago. And I waited 8 hours to see the doctor! It’s ridiculous!”
In response to example one, I always say that yes, it is tough. It’s demanding. Working in the ER is busy, and there is never a dull moment for any of our staff. But I can confidently say that every single one of my co-workers loves their job. We do it because it makes us tick. It’s a beautiful thing when a passion and a career meet.
In response to example two, I always say “I’m sorry about that.”
I know that people often complain about the amount of time they have to spend in the ER.
Most often for patients and family members alike, the complaint concerns time spent waiting: waiting to see the triage nurse; the primary nurse; the doctor. Waiting for lab results, waiting for the IV fluids to finish infusing, waiting to hear the prognosis for the father they see lying on the trauma room stretcher.
Over the past 8 months, I’ve spent over 1500 hours in the ER.
Only a tiny portion of that time was spent waiting.
As an RN, my time was spent receiving or giving report, phoning family members, applying defibrillators, inserting IVs, making toast with a little girl, documenting, reading cardiac rhythm strips, calculating medication doses, bringing the cancer patient another warm blanket, holding an elderly woman’s hand during an exam, triaging hundreds of patients a day, bringing concerns to doctors, coaching a young boy into swallowing his first pill, putting on isolation gown and mask and gloves, assessing a middle-aged man’s chest pain, washing the blood of the hepatitis patient off my arm, injecting analgesic, preparing a body for transport to the morgue, teaching a young boy’s parents about his new diagnosis of diabetes, fixing stretchers, pumping in IV fluids, discussing drug use with a college student, assessing lacerations and pupils and broken bones, patiently receiving “feedback” from irate patients, listening to a young woman cry about her heartbreaking week, interpreting doctor’s orders, researching rare conditions, getting a sugar packet for the homeless man in the waiting room, trying to find out a patient’s identity by going through their wallet, rushing a newborn baby into the resuscitation room, determining if a little girl has measles, hearing the cries of a small child having blood drawn, meeting with my manager about staffing concerns, mixing a Pink Lady for the man with heartburn, running to a “code” up on one of the floors, paging lab and respiratory, administering oxygen, obtaining health histories and medication lists, suctioning the airway for a man during his seizure, emptying catheter bags, sending samples to lab, catching early sepsis in the single mom who had a cough last week, helping a patient understand what the doctor just told them, advocating for an elderly woman who had a stroke, interpreting lab results, hugging the family whose father just died, fetching apple juice and toast for the drug dealer, pushing stretchers, changing bedding, and maybe finally sitting down to write down a couple notes before rushing off to the next thing.
Even though it feels like forever, times spent waiting represent only a fraction of what really goes on in the ER.
The thing is, an emergency room sees patients on a needs-based system. Those who require critical care receive it on a critical basis. They are the ones who do not have to wait, those who are rushed in and immediately surrounded by a gang of nurses. It is those people who often end up with CPR, central lines, catheters, defibrillators, arterial lines, warmed fluids, intubation, mechanical ventilation, rapid blood administration, countless wires and tubes connecting their body to various machines, orthopedic consults, CTs, surgery, or eventually… either a glad nod or a sad frown to their family member in response to the question “How are they?!”
I always say that I’d much rather be the person in the waiting room than the one lying on that stretcher, surrounded by all those nurses and doctors and support staff, connected to all those machines, with my life in the balance.
If you’re waiting, you can wait. Even though it’s tough and likely painful (one way or another), waiting is actually not a bad thing.
So please be patient with us as we care for those who need it most. Because someday, that might be you, and when that day comes you will want your nurse’s undivided attention.
Trust me, I would know. I’m a nurse.