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Sunday, October 09, 2016

how I became a bitch


Working in the ER changes you.

It is unlike any other place in the hospital. You are dealing with a constant stream of people who are having some kind of stressful event in their lives.  We may not think it is a crisis, but for them it is.

The ER never ends. It never closes. Its 24/7.  There is never a break. It can be quiet one minute and chaos the next. You can be dealing with a stubbed toe and in rushes someone with a gunshot wound or a cardiac arrest We live our life on the edge.

You are dealing with everyone from A to Z.  Many of the people who frequent ERs are living dysfunctional lives. They bring that dysfunction into the ER with them. They can be drunks, junkies, criminals, the homeless, the mentally ill, the neurotic.  We deal with violent drunks, drug seekers,  homeless people who haven't bathed for months, out of control psych patients, manipulative people who can turn on a dime if they don't get what they want.

We work in a chaotic environment of ringing alarms, yelling patients, ringing phones, overhead paging... When it ramps up its overwhelming.

You know all of the above going in, or at least you think you do.  When you choose to take a job in the ER, you are the kind of person who thrives on chaos and crisis.  Bring it on.

Here's the thing about the ER that people don't get: It is not like ER on TV.  We are not constantly dealing with a car accident, a shooting, a cardiac arrest.  We get critical patients. Often. That's actually the fun part of my job. Ninety nine percent of the time it is routine, dull even.

My job is the everyday world of the ER: the abdominal pains, back pains, chest pains, mental health, etc. etc. etc. that make up the daily operation of an ER.  Its boring really.  Its predictable.

Being an ER nurse, you see a lot of tragedy.  Tragedy in the form of suffering people with cancer who are dying, terrible chronic diseases or conditions, unwanted elderly people..  People die.  Families suffer.  It is sad.

Then you see people who are such ineffective copers that a cold sends them over the edge and into the ER.  They are the type of people who will never have their own doctor.  There lives are such chaos that the concept is foreign to them.

Every day you deal with drug seekers in their various forms.  They lie and manipulate to get what they want.  You learn to recognize them a mile away.

Then there are the just plain mean people. You learn just how many of them there are in the world. They yell at you, verbally abuse you, threaten you, may try to hit you and succeed. They are the out of control people down the hall yelling at the top of their lungs because they didn't get what they wanted.

All this changes you.  Hardens you.  Makes you cynical..  You develop a shell that protects you most of the time. It changes your view of people, the world.   It exposes you to things most people don't see. It gives you a perspective on your own life and how it ain't so bad.

Being an ER nurse is so very difficult.  You cannot understand how difficult unless you do it. The only things that saves you is the occasional thank you, the thought that you made someone feel better or participated in extending someones life at least enough to get them out of the ER.

Last but not least, you will work with people who are hilarious, smart, dedicated and some of the nicest people you will ever meet.  They keep you coming back

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Keep going; a lot of us appreciate the work you do.

D Smith said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
D Smith said...

This heart-felt honesty is so tough to find because we aren't allowed to say these things, certainly not to patients. This is what people should read. I am an MICU nurse who is burnt out after 3 (of 5) years on the Unit, having to deal with only a fraction of ER horseshit. And here's why its shitty:
1: I hesitate to recommend it to nursing students
2: the more you give the more that's taken away-- leaving behind a lot of nurses who don't really care as deeply, while passionate RNs flee.
3: knowing that you outpace most others, but realize you're better than the treatment the profession affords.. So you find something else, or just do a job for the money-- why not? At least I wont get attacked, injured back, berated by Dr's, patients, families, other nurses... I could go to sales tomorrow and triple my salary.

I work with absolute bad asses. They keep me going. I'd never trade that time with them for anything. But in the end, I deserve better than the treatment I get.
Thank you for this post. Thank you for your dedication.