Posted by Jennie David on July 26, 2013
If ERs gave out awards to their most loyal customers, I’d be a no-brainer for the #1 Customer award. But, since I live in reality, I collect medical bracelets in lieu of my big award.
Ending up in the ER on a Wednesday around midnight was an unexpected way to spend the night. When my Dad and I started walking toward the way-too-familiar ER entrance, I turned to him and said, “This is how I spend a night out on the town.”
Jennie: 0, Body: 1
Ironically, my ER-dash had nothing to do with my Crohn’s, but rather a separate condition that leaves me prone to blood clots. I’d developed some chest pain earlier in the evening and given my odd combination of past history with clots and the fact that I'm now working in cardiac surgery (and being all too conscious of heart problems), my parents and I figured safe was better than sorry, even if it did mean adding another metaphorical stamp to my ER frequent flyer card.
FYI: Chest pain is like the golden ticket in the ER – you whiz right in and before you know it you’re strapped to an EKG and instructed to stay still (warning: not an encouragement to report chest pain to triage unless you have it!). For an ER that I’ve spent way too much time in, this was by far the quickest trip to a room yet, and as I was being taken to the room, I noticed a sign that bugs me every time.
Capital letters, bolded, just in case you couldn’t read it on the first go-round. I remember the first time I saw such a sign, in my elementary school, walking by the staff room and feeling indignant. Staff only? I thought to my self. If staff are people who work somewhere, then I’m staff too because I work at school. Why are students not considered staff? Yes, I’ll admit that staff has a more nuanced meaning than simply ‘working’ at a place, but even so it bothered me then and it bothers me now. Especially given that I actually am a hospital employee now, albeit not in the ER, do I dare cross the threshold of the STAFF ONLY areas?
Spoiler alert: I did not stomp through the STAFF ONLY hallways proclaiming that I too was staff, but I did something better. The ER resident assigned to my case was a young, dry-humored doctor who seemed patient and kind even if it was the wee hours of the morning. When he asked for my past medical history, I squinted at him and told him I wasn’t really sure where to begin. I began listing my medical conditions and issues as he busily scribbled it all down, asking some questions and prompting me to recall other relevant medical history. Every addition to the list made him raise his eyebrows and I couldn’t help but laugh as I continued to rattle off problems – truly, it would have been kind of funny if it wasn’t so ridiculous. I intentionally used all of my medical jargon to show him that I knew what I was talking about. He smirked at me and said, “When are you going to med school?”
At one point, he looked up from his paper and said, “You know, I thought I’d come into the room and meet this 21 year old girl with multiple problems and risk factors and she’d be all whatever, but instead I come in here and you’re all bright and happy, I’m just like, I don’t know.”
“Well,” I told him. “You know the body, even when it’s crappy, is incredibly resilient and you can still do everything and do what you want.” I proceeded to tell him about graduating on time from college with double honors, and he held up his hand for a high-five. It’s official folks: high-fiving a doctor has been crossed off my bucket list. And to be clear, it is not that I think I’m extraordinary, but I do think I am normal and I think that is exactly what struck him.
I hope that he remembers me - and the notion that living with a chronic illness is still living - years from now when he’s a little older, a little greyer, and has his own patients without an attending around to keep tabs on him. I hope I taught him something that he couldn’t learn in a textbook. I hope I earned my honorary medical degree by showing him that doctors can and need to learn from patients just as much as they need to work with patients. There may be hallways marked off with STAFF ONLY, but that at the end of the day, it’s not about labels or the costumes of lab coats or Johnny shirts, but rather about the collaborative relationship, the give and take, the listening and the caring between doctors and patients.
Because we’ll get a lot farther if we work together versus working alone.