Three times in the past few weeks I have witnessed our ER staff being threatened.  Twice with ‘I’ll kick her %&$!,’  once with legal action over an issue that was totally nonsensical.  This, of course, pales in comparison to the crossed arms and huffing, the screaming and profanity that regularly inhabit our little slice of medical paradise.

So I began to ask myself, ‘where else can you do this?’  Try an experiment.  Next time you appear in traffic court, scream ‘#@%$ YOU’ at the judge.  Then ask for a cup of coffee, a snack, and insist on speaking to the criminal advocate.  Then, when they take the handcuffs off, e-mail me and let me know how it went.

When you’re at WalMart and the clerk makes a mistake at check-out, or when the store doesn’t give you a television for free, scream at the manager, ‘I’ll take you out back, you &%@# && and beat your ##$!’  They love that at WalMart.  They’ll probably give you a gift-card.

Or better, shoplift an item, then come back and complain that it isn’t working up to your expectations, ask for the consumer advocate and pace around staring at everyone in the management office until you get what you want.  They might just drop all the charges for shoplifting!

Even better, do it at the Post Office, or in the security line of the airport.  Postal inspectors and TSA officials are very patient and forgiving, right?

Fine, I’m on a tirade here.  But what I don’t understand is why the hospital is the one, consistent place where everyone’s courtesy and manners go out the window.  Why do people feel that nurses and physicians should be subject to all of their venom, all of their threats and violence and anger, and should then desire to show compassion and kindness?  Especially when many of those doing it, but not all, are doing it without ever paying a dime for their care?

Is it, as my friend Mike W. says, because ‘it’s the one place they have any power in otherwise powerless lives?’  Maybe.  Or is it because our culture is abandoning civility the way a snake sheds its skin?  Television and movies, music and talk-shows, websites and blogs are windows into the collective soul of the land; hateful speech, disrespect and rude behaviors are ubiquitous.

Sometimes it seems as if all roads converge on the ER.  Act badly and you’ll end up in the emergency department.  In other words, if you do what I suggested above, all you need to do, on the way to jail, is say, ‘I have chest pain,’ or ‘I think I’m having a seizure,’ or ‘I want to kill myself now,’ and all of your craziness will end up in the ER for a pre-incarceration physical.  As if the ER were the expected repository for profanity, screaming, threats and souped-up, confabulated drama.

Of course, what I’ll be told is that it’s because people are frightened and in pain.  But that doesn’t wash.  I’ve been in pain, I’ve seen plenty of people in pain, and the nice ones, the ones who believed in behaving like civilized humans, they didn’t curse anyone and they didn’t threaten anyone.  We aren’t animals, we’re humans after all!

Life in the emergency department is difficult enough.  We try to do our best with injuries and illnesses.  We try to move huge volumes of patient’s in and out.  We often do it with limited help and resources, with reduced staff and minimal space. The very last thing we need is more cruelty, more foul language, more attitude.

Where else can you act this way?

Nowhere, as far as I can see.

Pity.  I’d love to spread this behavior around a bit, so that everyone else can enjoy it as much as I do.


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