Behind the Curtain: The Emergency Room through the eyes of a nurse

At one point or another, most people will go to a hospital emergency ward. They might come with a friend or family member, they might just be passing through to get to another ward, or they might be the person sitting in the chairs waiting to be seen. However, you do not have to go to hospital to know about the infamous ‘waiting period’ of the emergency ward. Even I have fallen prey to the dreaded wait. A friend went to the emergency room in Toowoomba and I accompanied them, we arrived at 1900hrs roughly (7:00pm) and didn’t get seen by a doctor until 2200hrs (10:00pm). Three, long, mind bogglingly boring hours we sat there.

It made me wonder, ‘what on earth could they possibly be doing back there?’.

I wouldn’t get the answer to my question for another two months, when I looked at my allocation for my final clinical placement.
“Emergency Ward – Princess Alexandra Hospital”

I was over the moon. Who could ask for a better placement? High acuity patients means lots of tasks that need doing, which means as a student I get to do more and see more. It’s bad for the people in hospital, but great for me and the other nursing students.

When it was time for clinical, I drove to Brisbane and greeted my grandmother who kindly allowed me to stay at her house for the four weeks. Then the next day, clinical began. As far as placements go, it was fantastic. In my opinion, the people in charge of allocations for nursing practicals should put everyone in an emergency ward all the time because you see some many different things and get to do more than you might in a normal ward.

Due to privacy laws, I didn’t take any pictures so I don’t have any show readers of my time there. However, I did hear some good stories.

One particular day, we had a man present to emergency with a nail in his knee – he had been building in his backyard with a friend when the nail in the nail gun ricocheted and landed very snuggly in his knee causing pain, agony and a little embarrassment. It caused great excitement among the nurses, because one interesting patient always makes everyone talk about other interesting patients they’ve had. This man, unbeknownst to him, started the story train.

Two particular stories stood out for me. There was a man who came into the emergency room once with a nail in his eye. How on earth he got it there, nobody knew – as he wasn’t very forthcoming on details.

The second story, having moved from the topic of nails to eyes was about a man who came in with his eye hanging out of its socket. Every time he moved his head from side to side, it would almost ‘flap in the breeze’ the buddy nurse described but, luckily for the man, he went into theatre, they popped it back in and he could see fine. (I suspect there may have been more involved that just putting the eye back in its socket but I’m not down pat with those sorts of details).

But that doesn’t answer the question. The elusive question of “What the hell is taking so long?”

If I may be so bold, allow me to answer on behalf of all nurses.

The Doctors.

We (nurses) are usually fairly fast, once all the initial paperwork is done. That’s because we’ve only got about four patients – and that’s on a busy day, unless we’re covering someone else’s break in which case then it can be about six. That, however, is our limit. It means we’ve got time to do all the tasks that the patients need.

Sometimes we have patients that take a little more time. For example, while you may be lying in a bed after having finally been taken behind the triage desk, wondering why the nurses leave you alone for ages, we may very well be dealing with a septic patient, whose bowels aren’t working thereby causing gas build-ups and I could natter on about how bad their prognosis is but you get the idea. If you’re not too bad and there is someone who is worse, the nurses are going to be with the other guy. However, we do still have some time for you.

The doctors on the other hand might have about 11 or 12 patients. They might not directly see the patient, but they need to know what is happening, what treatments they might need and so forth. Basically – if we’re busy, you can be sure the doctors are even busier, which causes the delays. Then there are problems like beds not being ready on wards and waiting for test results, all of which takes time.

I think I’ll end this entry with a couple more patient stories and a non-specific funny picture.

We had a lady (not a child) present to the Emergency Room because she couldn’t remove a band-aid from her finger. (No, I’m not kidding.) Apparently it hurt too much to take off. The nurse, being the kind caring lady you expect all nurses to be – ripped it off and told her to go home. The nurse then told me that people have come to hospital for dandruff related issues. Again, not kidding.

We also had our fair share of drug seekers. A lady was sitting in bed reading a magazine, and when I walked past she waved me over and used these words…

 “Can you get me a glass of water, a band-aid for my foot and some Endone please?”
If I’d been drinking something I might have sprayed it over her face in surprise.
“Oh yes… some Endone,” I said hesitantly, “What would you say your pain score is?”
The lady leaned across the bed to rummage around in her bag for her phone.
“Oh…” she seemed to think about it for a moment, “I guess it’s about a seven…”

Please note, anyone who has a pain score of 7/10 is usually lying on the bed clutching something or sweating a little or groaning or all of the above. None of which she was doing.

It’s a shame there are people like that abusing the system, but you have to take the bad with the good – and as promised, the non-specific funny picture.


Bye for now,

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About Laura

I was born in the hustle and bustle of Brisbane, mid winter, some 19 years ago. Since that day, I've had the pleasure of a pretty enjoyable life. I've done a fair bit of travelling, and no-where near enough snow skiing as I would like. My name is Laura, and despite my intense desire for a nickname since grade 8, I have always been known as such. As you may have guessed, I spent my youth in Brisbane. When I graduated school, I wanted a change, and so I left the comforts of home and headed into the perceived wilderness of a rural setting. Of course, when I arrived I realized it was nothing like what my friends had made me believe. However, I was just about the only Brisbanite living in my college so it made for a vast change in conversation topics. As I alluded to earlier, I am a passionate skier. A good skier however, well, that can be debated. I’m rather uncoordinated, much to my eternal disgrace. I enjoy bushwalking, and reading and very occasionally, cooking – so long as its something sweet and I can lick the spoons. At University, I study Nursing full-time, and am nearly finished my second year of the three-year course. I hope you like my rambles of college life, and perhaps I will see you around.

One thought on “Behind the Curtain: The Emergency Room through the eyes of a nurse

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