Thursday, January 13, 2011

Saving Grace (Emergency Department Nurses)- LA Times Magazine

“I heard a guttural scream,” Rich says, “and a man was handing me his lifeless son.”

“How old?” I ask.

“Nine months. We worked on him for over an hour.”

Rich moves his chair, coughs. It’s freezing in the conference room. [Note: For privacy, nurses are mentioned only by first name.] The muffled din of the emergency room is audible through closed metal doors. It’s 7 a.m., and Rich’s 12-hour shift has just ended. “I flashed to something I heard once about how a casket doesn’t weigh very much—just enough to break a father’s heart,” he says, “and I lost it. I’m standing there, between beds one and two holding that dead baby, and I’m sobbing. I am in charge, and I’m crying.”

As an 11-year volunteer in Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s emergency room, I’ve seen close up what ER nurses deal with. It takes rare emotional courage not to burn out when you know that every time those doors open—whether you are working triage in front, where a guy may stumble in with a heart attack, or in back, where paramedics may race in with a girl who has been knifed or shot—it’s bad news. Then there’s the physical strength required to survive 12-hour shifts with two half-hour breaks and 45 minutes for lunch. ER nurses never sit. But it’s the children—every ER nurse will tell you—who take the biggest toll


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