Tales from the ER: Life & times of an ER nurse

Tales from the ER: Life & times of an ER nurse

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SALT LAKE CITY — Many people have no idea the kind of stress, frustration, anxiety and satisfaction ER nurses feel on a daily basis. The range of emotions can be exhausting; the unknown can be exhilarating.

I am a nurse in the emergency department in a Level 1 trauma center, one of only two in the state (actually, three if you consider Primary Children’s). What does a Level 1 trauma center mean, you might ask? It means that we have every kind of physician available if we need them. That translates into being able to take care of any person, no matter the complaint. If you need an orthopedic surgeon, we got it. If you need a plastic surgeon or an ophthalmologist, we got it. This means that we get all sorts of cases from all over the state as well as bordering states of Wyoming, Idaho and Nevada.

On average we see 235 patients in a 24-hour time period. On Jan. 24, we hit a new record with 327 patients, destroying our previous record of 297 patients.

We are also the busiest emergency department in the state, averaging 235 patients in a 24-hour time period. On Jan. 24, 2013, we hit a new record of patients seen in a 24-hour period. Our previous record was 297, and we destroyed that number by seeing a whopping 327 patients. Think about that: 327 people checked into our department from midnight to midnight on that day. That is incredible. We have 56 beds, including four beds specifically designed for trauma patients. These four beds get a lot of action on a daily basis, but they are specifically designed to handle any situation we could think of.

Most of us work 12-hour shifts and hardly ever get our federally-mandated 30-minute lunch break, and many times have to purposely get behind on our orders or simply neglect a patient just so we can go the bathroom. But we always try our best to be happy, friendly and be ready for anything that comes through our doors.

We are expected to make no (or very few) mistakes while trying to complete orders on any one of our four to six patients we are trying to take care of at any given time. We have the stress of completing doctors' orders, making sure the patient is taken care of and happy (which is no small task), and also making sure that our co-workers are getting the help they need if they require further assistance.

Tales from the ER: Life & times of an ER nurse

We never know what is going to come through our front doors or our ambulance bay. We cannot turn away any person for any reason, and we are obligated to treat every person that comes through our doors no matter the circumstances. We are trained every year in multiple areas and have to keep these certifications current each year. Standard courses include Pediatric Advanced Life Support, Advanced Cardiac Life Support, Trauma Nurse Core Class, Emergency Nurse Pediatric Course and hazmat training. We have quarterly skills pass-offs as well to keep up on all the equipment we use and a specialized trauma class each year. Other nurses received their Certified Emergency Nurse certificate.

I'd like to share a few nuggets of wisdom I have learned in my five years working in the emergency department. In no particular order:

  1. Try not to do any outside housework or try getting on your roof during a snowstorm. It’s simply not a good idea. Those Christmas lights can wait another day or two, I promise.
  2. If your friends dare you to do something you really don’t feel right about, don’t do it. They may call you mean things, but it will save you a lot of pain and a trip to see us (but we are always there if you happen to give in to peer pressure).
  3. Please do not delay serious symptoms. If you look up and see your once-normal spouse trying to eat his cereal but can’t because he is drooling all over the place because all of a sudden the right side of his face stopped working, please call the ambulance right away. Don’t wait to see if he will get better. It is better to come in and find out it is nothing than to wait at home and later (after he is dead or seriously injured) find out it was something serious.

In future articles I hope to help you understand the sacrifice and hard work ER nurses put in, as well as share with you the funny, sad, emotional and tragic stories that we see and deal with on a daily basis. My hope is that you will appreciate a little more what these amazing medical professionals are able to do and the miracles wrought within the walls of the emergency department.

These articles are intended for entertainment purposes, to shed light on the life inside an Emergency Room and not to be used in place of a doctor's care or advice.

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