You walk into the unit, put down your backpack, fill your pocket with pen, scissors, and tape, sling the stethoscope over your neck, swipe your namebadge into the infernal timeclock and enter stage right.
Get the triage, hook up the monitor, grab the EKG, slam in the saline lock – grab the bloods in the process, hang a liter of normal saline, put up the side rails, hook the call bell to the side rail, throw on a warm blanket, medicate for fever and slam the chart in the “to-be-seen” rack.
Repeat x 30 over the next eight hours.
Feel like burnt toast, look like burnt toast, act like burnt toast.
Where’s the patient?
You know, the person you just triaged, hooked, slammed, hydrated, side-railed, blanketed, medicated and lined up for evaluation?
Did it ever occur to you that the reason you feel like burnt toast is because you are so focused on what you are doing you have lost sight of the “who” you are doing it to?
Well, it occurred to me.
Because that is exactly what had happened.
Oh, my physical care was fine.
But I had stopped looking patients in the eye. I was spitting out standard responses instead of listening to what my patients were saying. I was expending the bare minimum of energy required to complete tasks.
I was doing; I wasn’t caring.
And I was burnt.
But I discovered something.
And this is huge.
I was not focusing on tasks because I had burned out, I burned out because I had started focusing on tasks.
Let’s face it. The ER, while seemingly exciting to those outside the ambulance doors, can actually feel redundant to those of us who deal with the same issues every day. The same complaints. The same symptoms. Over and over and over.
So, what makes each case interesting? What makes each case unique?
The patient behind the story. The person under the symptoms.
Lose sight of the person and you lose sight of the profession. Lose sight of their humanity and you lose sight of your own. Lose sight of your own and you become a burnt shell.
You would think that after three decades of this, I’d have figured this out by now.
I guess you never stop learning.
This time, my teachers were an elderly man with a DVT who talked to me about his time on the LAPD, back in the day.
And the young woman who described, quite vividly, how it felt to go from the pinnacle of health to the devastation of a cancer diagnosis, overnight.
Or the 18-month old who tucked their head under my chin and fell asleep as Mom described the terror of witnessing a first-time febrile seizure.
Who would have guessed that sometimes patients are the cure for burn out and not the cause of burn out.
The patients didn’t change, they were always willing to talk.
All I had to do was stop and listen.
*This blog post was originally published at Emergiblog*