Friday, March 21, 2008

Here comes the new blood!

People said February would be the worst, and it was. Even my CCU attending told me he remembers February of his intern year being a lowpoint in his life. Now that it's March, my spirits are magically improved. Is it because I was in the CCU in February pulling those fun 30-hour shifts? Is it because I am on my first vacation in eight months? Is it because spring is finally in sight? Or is it because yesterday was Match Day?

It seems that my Match Day was a lifetime ago, but alas, it was only last year! What a strange day! People were laughing and crying, but regardless of elation or misery, everyone wanted to drink as much alcohol as they could until their bodies said, "No more!" That's because they have spent the last nine months, the four years, or their entire lives waiting to find out what that envelope said.

What it means for me as an intern this year is that my replacements are on their way! They will shortly be signing contracts for the wild ride of intern year, and I will be moving on. Yes, the end of intern year is in sight! I know this means that I will be a resident in a few short months. It's a scary thought that I will try not to dwell on while soaking in the Caribbean sun.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

ER vs everyone else: Where's the love?

I have to say that there is no love between the emergency room and the rest of the hospital. The main reason is because when the ER decides to admit patients, they are creating work for the residents on the wards and in the ICU. While sitting upstairs, it's easy to criticize the emergency room staff. We criticize them for admitting patients who look too well, and we criticize them for not doing more for the very sick. What I had not realized until working down in the ER was how difficult it can be to make judgment calls about a patient when they come in. Sure, the next morning when you know how the patient did, it's easy to say what should have been done. However, in the ER, sometimes there are so many patients in the waiting room, that you can't wait to see which way the patient is going to go. You make a clinical decision--you admit the patient to the hospital or you send them home with some good instructions on what should bring them back. And then you pray that you erred on the correct side.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Adventures in the emergency room

After working 30+ hour shifts in the CCU, I thought a 12-hour shift in the emergency room would be nothing. I was wrong.

First of all, I started with night shifts. There seems to be no easy way to switch your body over to being awake all night. I tried afternoon naps, but that didn't work. After three nights of work in the ER, I was finally able to sleep nine hours during the day. Too bad after four night shifts I now have to flip to doing day shifts!

The ER is an interesting place. I'm used to being upstairs where someone else has already decided that someone's problems are serious enough to be in the hospital. My biggest problem in the ER is adjusting my "bullshit meter". Who is in the ER for secondary gain? It's not the coziest place in the world, but it does offer a warm place to sleep and as many 4 oz containers of juice as you want. I've had people come in saying "I had a seizure" or "vomited up lots of bright red blood" or "I want to kill myself!" Individually any of these would be a serious complaint, and I quickly started to realize that they know if they say one or sometimes all of these things we can't kick them out the door for at least a few hours. Yes, the people who say these things are usually drunk and sleepy. However, they are also symptoms that are more likely in people who are drunk, and the fact that they're sleepy would normally be more concerning. Did they overdose? Try to kill themselves? Hit their head and lose consciousness? Probably not, but I worry and often rely on the judgment of those who have more experience.

The other thing I find interesting is that people come to the ER in the middle of the night for the most mundane things--sore throats, tooth pain, a cough that's been going on for a week. They know the wait is shorter if you come at 3 am. I know that this is a symptom of our broken healthcare system. I myself haven't seen my primary care doctor in two years because it's too darn hard to get an appointment. Sometimes the wait for a sick visit is a week. However, there are people who keep coming to the ER for the same complaint, and I ask them why they don't go see their primary care doctor in between visits. Usually, they say "I didn't think about going when I felt okay." It's probably silly of me to try to change the system one person at a time, but I sit down and tell them about the role of the primary care doctor. Despite the frustrations of the system, that person is the main coordinator of their health. If they continue to have complaints serious to them but not serious enough to be admitted to the hospital, they're not going to get fixed until something very bad happens. I might be imagining a light bulb going off in their head, but hopefully my pleas to go see their regular doctor are heard.

One more week until my first vacation in eight months! Can't wait!