Monday, June 26, 2006

blog niblets, historical edition

Okay, because it's been a few days since I've posted, because I want to keep up the flow of ideas, because I'm always talking about how I'm going to get around to telling some cool ER stories, and finally because I'm always obsessing about how to do that while also respecting confidentiality, here's what we're going to do today: I now present to you a list of very short-but-true little factoids. The following things happened to me at some point within the past three years or so, although the non-clinical stuff goes back farther. Note: the few identifiying details that might be present are subject to change, so you'd never figure out who, when, or where, don't even try.

* The first time I set foot in an emergency department as a patient, I very nearly, as my British friends say, pulled. I struck up a pleasant conversation in the waiting room with someone who I think was there with her friend. My swollen glands and constant pain were not enough to keep me from turning on the charm.

This was an early experience that cemented two ideas for me: one, I'm even more charming and attractive when I'm in the healthcare environment (which is weird, because way back then I was only an erstwhile transcriptionist, and was still in deep denial about the idea that I'd ever want to practice medicine myself). Two, upon thinking about it, something about hitting on chicks in a hospital, or having chicks hit on you in a hospital, is just plain weird. The professional detatchment thing would later turn out to be easy for me, and maybe this is part of why.

It would be a cooler story if I got those digits, though... it woulda been nice to have a better self-image back then. And besides, my strep was gone in like a week.

* The first time I set foot in an emergency department as a student, I observed an attempted suicide case. The patient would turn out okay medically. The note was sitting out on the countertop. I don't remember it word-for-word, but I remember how it felt to read, and how clear the writing was. Here's where I learned about the reverent, church-like feeling of being witness to the extremes of human experience; how people's bodies and the artifacts of their lives are laid out for view.

Now that one of my job responsibilities is gathering and packaging trauma patients' clothing and personal belonings, it's hard not to think of this clinical, dispassionate view in chaotic, passionate times. We take care of that stuff, man. We document piles of clothing and the contents of pockets like archival materials, and handle them like just-purchased Christmas presents.

The one time I, in my capacity as a lowly tech, walked upstairs to sit in the surgery waiting room and talk to the family of an accident victim was to explain to them that their family member's clothing had been so thoroughly cut by our shears, and was so saturated with his blood, that I felt they would agree it was better to throw it away. Red-eyed and waiting for news from the OR, they considered what it would have been like to open a brown paper bag and see their loved one's stuff like that, and told me thanks for thinking of it, of them, in that way. I'm glad I was right in this case, because the hospital's rule is right, in general: that decision was just plain not mine. If it had turned out they'd wanted the shredded, soggy stuff, I would have gone searching in medical waste.

* I'm pretty good at reading X-rays, although I need to get over this thing where I spend significant time looking at the wrong part of the picture entirely.

* I've been offered the opportunity to do all manner of things with needles and blades that I probably shouldn't do quite yet. I've turned those down, but I do know how to put a dislocated finger back in place.

* I was an EMT for just shy of three years, and I carry a bag in my car with splints, bandages, scissors, and basic things. I stopped by the side of the road as the first responder to an accident, last winter, while I was out east. I didn't use anything from the bag except a pair of purple gloves, but speaking as a guy with a four-year acting degree behind me, I'll tell you what: those gloves, plus the shoulder strap of the bag slung across your chest? The knowing what to say, and what to do? That shit is theater. Pure and simple. And it helps people. All I had to do was talk, really, until the volunteer rescue squad came. Those guys were basically me, plus of course years of experience, plus a big truck with all the necessariy equipment and cool lights.

But the theater is the most important part of the equation.

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