I was working a 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. locums shift a few months ago and was preparing to leave. There were about 15 patients in rooms and 15 waiting to come back. I asked the lone night physician: “Hey, do you want me to stay a while?” Her answer, defeated, was this: “No, don’t worry. It’s always like this.”
I packed my bag and headed to the hotel, still feeling guilty but also exhausted. And wondering why my colleagues are treated so poorly in emergency departments all over the land. I see it time and time again. Overwhelming numbers of patients with increasingly complex medical and social problems, versus inadequate physician coverage at all hours of the day, and especially the night. We’ve all done it. Already fatigued, we have five chest pains yet to see, as well as a trauma on the way into the department. Two more patients have fever but don’t speak English, and we’re waiting to make the translation line work. And there’s a large facial laceration yet to be repaired. And that’s just the first nine patients. It’s not even three hours into the shift. (And the EMR backup is in process.)
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