Articles by Teresa Wu, MD & Brady Pregerson, MD
Your next patient is a 28 year old female who has been triaged by one of
the new nurses as” right lower quadrant pain for about nine hours”.
Knowing that clothes generally stay on in the triage area, and the belly
button usually remains unseen, the first thing you do after you close
the curtain and introduce yourself is to have the patient pull up her
blouse and point to where she feels the pain.
What an interesting week it’s been. You witnessed the untimely death of a
young mother and an ED delivery of a newborn in the same shift. You
took care of an elderly man with hypermagnesemia and then a young,
otherwise healthy man with vomiting and hand cramps that made all his
fingers look like they had swan-neck deformities. You just tapped an
ankle and diagnosed new onset gout. Now you are about to tap a wrist,
and, given how your week has been going, you figure it will probably be
It’s going to be one of those shifts. You just sent a 29- year-old male
to the cardiac cath lab for a bona-fide ST elevation MI. Your patient
with a chief complaint of “eye pain” ended up having metastatic cancer
within his right orbit, and your seemingly straight-forward post-partum
woman with a headache had an MR venogram showing a dural vein
It seems like your entire shift has been non-specific abdominal pain,
peppered with a few non-cardiac chest pains and some non-organic
headaches that are only relieved by Dilaudid. No one feels your pain
from taking care of patients that don’t really need to be in the ED in
the first place, but hey, it’s job security, right? So you suck it up
and grab the next chart in the to-be-seen box. The chief complaint reads
Just when your evening can’t get any worse, two of your stellar EM
residents come up to you and inform you that the internal medicine team
is trying to “block” yet another admission. This is the 5th attempt at
refusal today. The patient in question is acidotic, thrombocytopenic,
altered, and bleeding from around the PICC line that was placed while he
was in the hospital last week.
You got stuck with another holiday shift. As usual it starts off slow,
but eventually a bolus of patients arrives, to make up for lost time and
then some. Fortunately most of your patients aren’t that sick.
“There is no such thing as a ‘black cloud’,” your colleague jokingly
retorts. “We all get the same chances to make the diagnosis and to do
what’s right.” You give him your best pseudo-evil-eye as you continue to
recount the number of unfortunate cases you’ve seen with the residents
this evening already.
It’s one of those average days in the ED where you work. It’s not too
busy, but it’s not exactly what you would call slow either. Your shift
has been a little bit on the boring side: lots of URIs, non-specific
abdominal pain, low-risk chest pain, ankle sprains, and the occasional
mild CHF or COPD flare. Also, too many people with the dreaded “multiple
“Get them out of here,” you hear your colleague next to you exclaim.
“Treat ‘em and street ‘em. We need to open up some more beds.” You
wrinkle your nose and wonder quietly if we’ve all become so focused on
throughput that we’ve somehow lost sight of why we all signed up for
this job in the first place.
“Is it a full moon out?” your charge nurse asks as she takes the 5th EMS patch in the last hour. “We have two more traumas en route, and there are 4 patients that need to be seen at the door by our triage doc. Our beds are full and the hallways are getting awfully crowded…”
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