Loving the Unloved in the Emergency Department

Something we pride ourselves on in the ED is the ability to make light of anything. We can turn literally anything into a laugh and find it easier to get through the day that way. One particular highlight of the day is hilarious triage chief complaints. A few shifts ago, I was in a low acuity part of the ED working with one of my favorite PAs and saw the complaint “I’ve got a corn in my ear” waiting for us. Obviously, we were already laughing. How does one even get a single piece of corn in one’s own ear?! I went to retrieve the patient and decided to look for who it might be first. I scanned the lobby and saw a slightly disheveled patient talking to himself. He looked like he was in a heated conversation with himself. Clearly, it was highly possible it was going to be him. So we pulled him to the room to see him and this is a little bit of how the conversation went:

Me: So what brings you in today?

Patient: I’ve got a corn in my ear!

Me: How did that happen?

Patient: I got mad so I put a corn in my ear!

The PA checked both ears and pulled the lone corn out of his ear, as well as noted he had an infection in the other ear. The patient divulged that he sometimes puts stuff in the other ear when he gets mad, also. He was counseled about NOT putting foreign bodies in his ear at any time and was given prescriptions for his bilateral ear infection. He hadn’t had breakfast so I loaded him up with cereal and milk, per his request, and sent him on his way with a bus pass to get wherever he was going. We went back to the room we were charting in and had a laugh about it. We talked about how you literally can’t make this shit up. Then a quiet sadness settled on both of us. We talked about how it was sad because he clearly has mental health issues and there isn’t much we can do to help him. I started thinking about what might’ve brought him to this point in his life. I thought about the day my son was born and how perfect he was, and how this man might’ve been born the exact same way; perfect and innocent. What has happened to him to bring him to me this way?

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Photo by Matt Collamer on Unsplash

Often times, we know some of our special frequent visitors, like the one described above, better than anyone else in the world does. They come to us for comfort, safety, hygiene, temporary shelter, nourishment, or just company, even if one or all of those things are only for a few moments. We do our best to send them off with resources to make their life even a little bit better or help them with whatever problem they have that to them, requires immediate attention. These patients are experiencing financial or emotional hardship, homelessness, addiction, depression, loss, hunger, mental illness, or a handicap of some kind, among other things. We have to put in a little extra elbow grease for them because of these special layers to their life. The rest of the hospital sometimes gets to meet them on rare occasion, and we help them get to know them the best we can, but they don’t see them how we do.

One of the most unrecognized jobs of ED nurses, providers, and other staff is that we have to provide love to those whom the rest of the world has deemed unlovable. The people the world has forgotten and knowingly or unknowingly chosen to ignore. The humans that have been given up on, even if it was unintentional. At times, these people are hard for even us to love. In these moments, they might lash out at us with violent or mean words or behaviors. No matte what, we care for them just the same as we would anyone else. We love the unloved. Take today to give a little love to someone, even if it’s just a small thing. Do a kindness for someone. Hold the door, give a stranger a smile in passing, or just say hello. Believe me, it will make a difference.

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Much love to you,

Just Ask the Nurse

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