Red Light ER (9/14)

The hospital where I work had a meeting for all employees where we discussed appropriate and inappropriate behavior in the workplace. I cursed vehemently for 10 minutes, but I still went because they had doughnuts and coffee.

The lecturer explained that all work environments, whether they are in cubicles, offices, or with Samuel L. Jackson on snake-filled planes, should be welcoming and peaceful. In effect, any behavior or statement not sounding like Julie Andrews ladling saccharine into the delighted mouths of overdressed nanny-cherubs was considered a red light.

My co-workers and I explained that the ED represents a unique working environment, different from Dunder Mifflin and other offices. We regularly experience gore, outbursts, and behaviors not seen anywhere else. I had numerous normal jobs before medical school, but none of them came close to the sights and chaos of the ED.

“No,” the bouncy, enthusiastic group leader chirped. “You only thinkit’s different where you work. I hear, ‘My workplace is different’ atevery place I lecture. People always think their environments are special. Trust me. When you get down to it, all workplaces are essentially the same.”

What Ms. Perky wanted to convey was that we in the ED should always try to be professional, and I agree with this entirely. Sometimes health care workers behave unprofessionally; we should strive to do better. But we became a bit irked when she informed us that the ED was exactly like an office. Maybe “irked” is the wrong word. That is like saying Godzilla did some minor remodeling to Tokyo, but you get the picture.

I took notes over the next few weeks, jotting down events I thought might push the boundaries of most working environments.

Exhibit 1. A histrionic, borderline schizophrenic came into the ED and decided to remove all of her clothes and lay down on her back naked in front of the nursing station. In response to the inevitable question, she explained she just became paralyzed. Miraculously, her paralysis resolved when security arrived.

I delivered pizza for three years. Despite what you may have seen in low-budget movies, delivery guys are rarely met by busty, semi-naked women. I did have a guy answer the door in his boxers once, but to his credit, he did give me a $10 tip.

Exhibit 2. A drunk man sleeping in a hall bed across from me woke up every five minutes screaming, “I gaaaa fish! I gaaaa fish!” After this, he immediately fell asleep. I pounced on his next brief flirtation with consciousness, and explained that we did not have fish. He angrily retorted “I gaaaa FISH!” Then he fell asleep again.

A short while later, I noticed the subtle but unmistakable tinkling sound of a cascade of urine hitting the floor.

“Oh,” I thought. “I gaaaa fish is I gotta piss. Now I get it.” His amazing water pressure ironically arced his urine stream directly over the bedside urinal that was at his elbow. I sighed and kept dictating.

I worked at Walmart for a summer. The urinals were a testament to poor marksmanship, but I never saw a golden rainbow in the lawn ornament aisle.

Exhibit 3. A patient was wheeled directly from triage to a trauma bay. His friends dropped him off at the front door, and drove away after astutely noting his failure to breath. Along with other critical actions, we quickly administered a generous dose of Narcan. In an enthusiastic gesture of his unbridled thankfulness, he immediately swung a grateful uppercut at the nurse who had just saved his life.

When I worked data entry, I often wished I could stop breathing and be whisked away to an exciting new location. It never happened. I did consider punching myself in the face with a stapler, but I cannot imagine my joy of being rescued expressing itself in violence. No one ever took a swing at me, despite speaking in the third person for several hours to amuse myself.

Exhibit 4. Our hospital is a psychiatric hospital, and I have met dozens of Jesuses and Satans. Some patients growl or bark at me, and I even had a young man claim his father was a chupacabra, the Mexican version of Bigfoot whose name translates to goatsucker.

I never met famous people in my other jobs. The closest I ever got was when my brother and I mowed lawns together. One of our customers looked just like Tony Danza, only slightly rounder and a woman.

Obviously, the list could go on for pages. The point is that we work in a place that at times borders on insanity. We see, hear, and experience a slice of the world that no one else does. Our jobs areunique, and I, for one, love it.

Sure, stay professional and act appropriately. But if some perky lecturer tells you the ED is the same as everywhere else, just tell her “I gaaaa fish,” and walk away.


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