Watching ER
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

78 Watching ER We nurses share in our patients’ joys—the successful operation, the negative scan, the day of discharge—but our days also include crash C-sections, unexpected infections, sudden trauma, and other personal and familial grief. Unlike the smoothly coordinated workings of the TV show ER (“We have to crack the chest! Quick, the knife! Rib spreader! There, we’re in!”), our jobs consist of a merely human plodding after healing. Some of the time, things don’t go so smoothly. Equipment is missing or not working, patients don’t spring back to life, and sometimes, at least speaking for myself, I’m just not smart enough. I have to run into the back room and beg for help. Sometimes I have to go into a quiet corner and pray for strength. “So why,” my friends ask me, “do you watch ER?” A few years ago, I received a frantic call. My daughter was in the emergency room of a small-town hospital with her ten-month-old daughter. “Can you get here right away?” my daughter pleaded. “She has croup, and I don’t think this doctor knows what he’s doing!” It was late at night in the midst of a terrible early spring storm; my husband and I sped the thirty-mile drive, rain and wind making visibility almost impossible . When we rushed into the ER, my granddaughter was lying on a gurney, her body a pale motionless light in the middle of the long black stretcher. A nurse wafted a nebulizer over her face and kept repeating, “Breathe, honey. Breathe.” A tall doctor in a blue coat agitated back and forth. When he saw us he grimaced. “Great,” he said, “now everyone’s here.” My daughter pulled me aside. “He’s a moonlighter,” she said. “It’s his first night, and he doesn’t know how to intubate a baby. He paged the anesthesiologist on call, but he isn’t here and he hasn’t answered. The ambulance is on its way from Children’s Hospital.” Her voice broke. “They said the Life Star helicopter can’t fly in this weather. So they’re more than an hour away.” Davis text.indb 78 11/12/08 10:00:38 AM watching er  79 On the gurney, my granddaughter stared up at the ceiling, the white steam from the nebulizer condensing on her skin in milky drops. Her eyes were dull and cloudy. The rasp of her breathing mingled with the hiss of the oxygen. All of us—me, the inexperienced physician, the nurse, my husband, my daughter, and my son-in-law—stood by helplessly and listened as our precious baby struggled for air. “Come on, honey,” the nurse said. “Stay with us.” I prayed. I prayed hard that the team would arrive from Children’s Hospital in time. And when they do arrive, I prayed, let them be skilled. Let them sweep in and know what to do, their actions a smooth, saving dance. Let them have the right medications and let them know how to thread the tiny breathing tube into my granddaughter’s trachea. Let the nurse be kind and alert and one step ahead. Let her take us aside and tell us that everything will turn out fine. Let them keep my granddaughter alive. An hour later, the team arrived: two pediatric intensive care nurses, two pediatric intensive care residents, and the driver. My granddaughter’s airway had narrowed to less than a quarter-inch. The team shooed us out of the room. They told the moonlighting doctor to get out as well. They pulled out their gloves and silver instruments and went to work. A nurse hugged my daughter and explained what was happening. The driver went outside and kept the ambulance motor running. One of the residents, a woman with brown hair and tired brown eyes, tried once, then again, and on the third try inserted the breathing tube into my granddaughter’sthroat.Inthenextinstant,theyweregone.Theresidentranbeside the stretcher, hand-pumping the Ambu bag. The nurse held the IV bags in the air and pulled the portable crash cart along, keeping her eye on the jagged, racing line that was my granddaughter’s heart. The lights of the ambulance twirled as they pulled off into the downpour, my daughter and her husband driving blindly after them. Lucky, they told my daughter, and she told me. If we’d arrived a few minutes later, she wouldn’t have made it...


pdf