My least favorite and most frequently asked questioned when people find out I’m an ER nurse is “do you exciting things all the time?”
My answer is no. No I don’t see exciting stuff all the time. Most of my patients are belly pain, chest pain, chronic problems and people frustrated and exhausted with their chronic illness, miscarriages, infections, etc. We see a little bit of everything in the ER. And when people ask about exciting stuff I’m sure they’re thinking about traumas that they see in medical shows on tv. And yes there is an adrenaline rush when you get someone critical and you have to move quickly. And it’s kind of empowering to realize you know what to do and that you get to play a role in saving the life of someone.
But when you ask the question to an ER nurse “do you get to see exciting stuff all the time?” You’re asking about the crisis of a family. When we get a trauma and it’s a car accident or a suicide attempt it’s not exciting; yes, there’s an adrenaline rush. But when you hear a mom’s heart break in the way she cries over her daughter who was successful in her suicide attempt or watch a teenage boy sob at the desk because his dad is dead without the ways we are artificially keeping him alive, you don’t think about the excitement. You think about the loved one that has been lost. And you go home that night and you cry. You cry because a life was lost too soon and there was nothing more that could’ve been done for them. And you find the silver lining in knowing that the patient who died was an organ donor and that despite the shitty situation, good is going to come out of it because they’ll be able to save lives with the loss of theirs. And you remember the critical patients who live.
You remember the heart attack patient who came in and you rushed to their treatment area and a few hours later the cath lab staff comes down with the clot they retrieved and they tell you that the patient is alive, awake and resting comfortably because I and my team did my job that day. Those are the exciting days. Those are the rewarding days.
But when people ask me if I see exciting things in the ER I think about the critical patients I’ve gotten and how they were on their death bed. And we did everything for them that we could and got them where they needed to go.
I’m not an ER nurse for the thrill and excitement of it all because it’s not as exciting as television makes it out to be. And the aftermath of a patient who we know is brain dead is a stoic spirit to the nurses who cared for that patient the rest of their shift.
I’m not an ER nurse for the thrill of it. I’m an ER nurse because it is a gift and privilege to care for and be there for people in the moment of their acute crisis.