I worked nights over the weekend.  Both Saturday and Sunday night were very busy shifts in the emergency department.  As I get older, seeing even 23-25 patients in a night becomes harder, because I don’t rest as well as I used to before work.  It’s also harder because our patient volume is steadily growing; a blessing, but a mixed one.
Of course, the natural consequence of fatigue is that I become more easily irritated at work.  I try to suppress it; I really do!  And I’ve learned, over the years, the large extent to which my attitude towards patients is really a function of how I feel about myself, or the things in my own life.  Am I worried? Am I tired? Am I angry?  Am I feeling happy and loved?  All of these invariably come out in the way I address the patients, and co-workers, who cross my path.

My walk in faith has made it better.  Am I worried?  I trust God.  Am I tired?  I pray for strength.  Am I angry?  I learn to forgive and see all people as God’s creations.  Am I happy and loved?  Not always happy, but always loved.

Despite this, grumpy ER doctor attitudes emerge from time to time.  This weekend, two patients’ charts, in adjacent rooms, from the same family, said ‘I was here with a relative (the third in the family) and thought I’d just get checked out.’  This sort of thing, in the midst of a busy department, can be truly demoralizing.

Even the nurses were agitated by the statement.  However, I made a point of saying to one of them ‘it’s OK to be annoyed…we just have to make sure there’s not real problem first.’  Getting annoyed, mouthing off, and then finding out the patient is really sick is remarkably embarrassing.  I’ve been there, and I know whereof I speak.

So the ‘just getting checked out’ patients were:  a child with a painful ear infection and a woman with an impressive amount of wheezing and no adequate rescue inhaler.  I didn’t say a cross word to either of them.  They needed me, and I was happy to be there.

Later, two young men came in from an altercation.  ‘Great!  Drunks from a fight!  Don’t they understand how they take our time?’  Those thoughts raged through my mind.  Then I went to see them.  Attacked justly or not, they were as polite as can be.  I stapled a scalp laceration on one, and closed a complicated lip laceration on another.  They needed to be there, and I enjoyed taking care of them.

The thing about medicine is, we should always think, look and speak.  That is, pause before we unleash our venom, evaluate everyone before we decide they don’t have an emergency and then speak calmly and kindly as often as possible.

Much of our anger lies in ourselves; most of our frustration originates in situations our patients can’t control.  And most of the people who need us really do.  Certainly there are glaring examples of abuses; outstanding human specimens who drive us to distraction and deserve a little lecture now and then.  But not most of them.

For most of them, we need simply take a deep breath, do the right thing and learn to love whenever possible.

Today, rested and well fed, I see it clearly.  A few nights ago, I could scarcely have written this.

I’m learning…it’s been slow, but God is good, and I’m learning.

Grace and peace to all,

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