A simple act of kindness in the ER

As an emergency physician used to working in busy, urban ERs, I like to think that I’m not easily surprised. The other day, someone did something that really amazed me.

Our patient was a young woman who had a headache and requested medications to take it away. On an average ER shift, we see dozens of patients with similar complaints to hers. On busy days, the evaluation and treatment become rote: take a history, do a physical exam, administer treatment, fill out paperwork, and so on and so forth.

I had finished the evaluation and was typing my note when our ER tech, Emily, came up to me. She held a baby in her arms who was gurgling and sucking his thumb.

“Do you remember this one?” she asked me.

I vaguely recalled that there was a crying baby in the room with my patient. Emily confirmed, “It’s hers. I just took the baby to give her a little break.”

Emily figured out something that I didn’t. Over the next hour, she entertained the baby while its mom slept, all the while carrying on with her other busy duties. When my patient woke up, her headache was much better.

In today’s medical world, it’s so easy to forget the human aspect of care and to neglect the low-tech solutions that are so important. As my hero, Dr. Bernard Lown says, you should always feel better after having gone to see the doctor. We are so used to making people feel better through medications; we must not forget the other simpler, and even more critical treatments.

When I complimented Emily on her excellent care, she blushed. “It was nothing,” she said. (She was so hesitant to accept credit that she didn’t want her real name to be in this article.)

But it’s not nothing. It’s a bright spot, a simple act of kindness, something that can and did make a difference in someone else’s life. She didn’t do it because she wanted recognition or praise for it; she did because it was the right thing to do.

All of us have the opportunity to inject a little bit of brightness into someone else’s day.

What will your act of kindness be?

Leana Wen is an emergency physician who blogs at The Doctor is Listening. She is the co-author of When Doctors Don’t Listen: How to Prevent Misdiagnosis and Unnecessary Tests.  She can also be reached on Twitter @drleanawen.

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