Working in the ER on holidays

As I prepare to go into work for another string of night shifts, I become aware that this is just another holiday that I will be working. It’s the Fourth of July, not a major holiday as is designated by any scheduler, so no credit will be given to those of us who work today. Some previous employers have given extra pay for said days, as little as $200 to as much a $1,000 for working such shifts. My current employer offers none, no enticement to spend the day away from family while caring for others. Many people work on such holidays, from gas stations to grocery stores, so why should we in health care feel entitled to have such days off? If anything, we should feel privileged to take care of people when they are at their most vulnerable.

As an ER doctor, we see the impact that illness has on all kinds of patients, from the very young to the very old. Someone has to work, to be available for those that require emergent or critical care. The door is always open, and the CT scanner is always ready. In this climate where health care costs are often scrutinized, people question the expense for the care that they receive when, in reality, the cost of care must also take into account and include the availability of such care. Each of us plays a supporting role in health care accessibility and are required to make this big machine roll well when tragedy occurs. Working this evening in a small emergency room, I come in alongside registered nurses, respiratory therapists, X-ray technicians, medical assistants, clerks and security forces who make up the team privileged to tackle an emergency that may walk in or be brought into the facility.

We each carry in a food container for a celebratory dinner that we hope we will actually have time to eat. Those are good nights — full of comfort foods and desserts. Often times we don’t get to eat together, and most nights the food needs to be reheated, but most often it is a smorgasbord of various ethnic foods: pancit, spring rolls, burgers, hot dogs, chips, and salsa — a true melting pot of foods and flavors. In the emergency room, the team is composed of various ethnicities and races and none limit our ability to save lives. We work in conjunction to provide great care, and all are focused on obtaining the best outcome for our patients.

So during the holidays, be sure to remember those of us holding down the fort in the emergency room, and remember that you needn’t look any further to see how well the American melting pot works. Now it’s time to reheat my hot dog, dig into some Watergate salad and enjoy my chips and salsa.

Maria Perez-Johnson is a pediatrician.

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