Friday, January 13, 2012


I was standing in the trauma room, wedged in a space between the trauma closet and another patient bed, holding the penis of a rotund drunk who could not reach it himself. He possessed a perfumed aura of fermented dairy products and neglected hygiene and graciously obliged us with a true-to-life rendition of his favorite soundtrack of mating large mammals. As I nimbly caught most of his interrupted spurts of diseased brown fluid in a deluxe male urinal, the techs who were gossiping on the other side of the trauma room looked at me in disgust. Then, they turned away and continued their analysis of a co-worker's perceived slight in hushed tones, lest I hear too much.  The absurdity almost made me laugh out loud.  It was my second time holding someone's genitals that day.

The first was a very weak old man who could not move much. From behind the curtain, I had heard the doctors musing, 'well we definitely need a urine on him' so I quickly fetched a urinal.  From across the room, I heard, 'Oh, sir, are you able to pee? Oh, he's going now.' Rushing in and pushing aside the curtain, I saw the doctors standing nonchalantly away from the bed. The looked at me and nodded as if it were a matter of course that I should be getting that urine sample now. I cut open the soaked diaper and despite that urine sprayed in uncertain spurts all over the bed, I managed to grab the slippery thing and get enough of a sample to send.  Unfortunately, Mr. Peed-on-Me was soiled and nobody would come in despite my pleas, so I moved him, cleaned him and changed his linens by myself.  As I was preparing to send the hard-won urine sample, a nurse popped her head in "Hey, what's your name again, can you go put bed 1 on a bedpan?" Before I could reply, she left, and the very obese lady in bed 1 refused to use the bedpan until I lugged a commode across the department to accommodate her. When I helped drag her body out of bed, I felt something in my mid thoracic back shift and twinge... so far, it's turned out to be nothing. (knock on wood)

The trauma room was uncomfortably warm and my drunk seemed to stop grunting.
"Are you about done, Mr. Drunk Half-Passed-Out?"
"LEAVE ME ALONE I WANNA SLEEP why won't you just... let me... go... ho... zZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz......"

I wheeled the sleeping Mr. DrunkHPO back to the hallway where I had first apprehended his "I NEED TO PEE NOW NOW NOW NOW NOW HURRY I NEED TO PEE NOW" request to find that the spot was already staked by a little old lady who looked like she had Death flexing his fingers over her shoulder.  I left Mr. DHPO in front of a closet to assess Lady Shriveled and a transporter yelled into the phone next to me "I'm sorry, but it's crazy down here, I can't find her. They've got people in hallway spots that aren't even spots! Does that even make sense?"

I had more than 12 patients in my section of critical care, several of whom needed labs, several more of whom needed to use the bathroom/had already gone in bed and needed to be cleaned, almost all of whom needed vital signs charted, urines dipped and sent, a transfusion to pick up from the blood bank, and the nurses from the other critical care section asking me to do quick blood assays.
What's more, patients just kept coming into my critical care section, one after another, with no end in sight.
With each patient comes a set of duties that should be performed immediately, such as the vital signs monitor, bloodwork and an EKG.

EKG's can be difficult to perform with certain patients, but each patient needs to have an EKG within 10 minutes of being triaged. In the time it takes to be registered, triaged, then brought to our section, I am left with only a few minutes to undress, expose, and perform the EKG with nurses and doctors at my elbows trying to assess the patient.  An EKG requires the patient to stay still, so this can be a challenging task if the patient is nervous and moving incontrollably.  As I was doing an EKG on Lady Shriveled, a student nurse sniffed at me, "we've got this, can you go put bed 3 on a bedpan?" Bed 3 was a code-brown.  As I gathered the materials to clean her/change her linens, a nurse from the other critical section team came to ask me to do a quick blood test.

I was wearing thin, and somehow, this helped me think more clearly.
S: "I can do it, but where is your tech?"
RN: "Tech Useful is doing an EKG in room 9."
S: "Wait, Tech Useful is extra today."
RN: "Oh, really? Who is our tech?"
S: "Actually, Tech Laid-Back is supposed to be in your section... Also, Trauma Tech Sour-face is supposed to be out here too.  You have 3 techs, and they only have me. Nobody has helped me out all day."
RN: "Hm, let me go check."

He walked around the department and looked at the assignment sheet- nobody else was to be found.  I ran the blood test anyway, but at least now, the charge nurse and team leader nurse became aware and concerned about the people missing in action, even prompting an overhead page, to no avail.

One patient began to code, and out of nowhere, Trauma Tech Sour-face, who had been hiding in the trauma room appeared, pushing us all aside to say, "I've got this," and jumped on the patient's chest to do compressions. Other techs appeared too, and suddenly, our department was full of dedicated, hard-working heroes. It wasn't the first time I laughed in absurdity that day.

It was, however, the first time I ever reported anyone to the managers.  Tech Laid-Back had tried to do damage control with me, saying that she accompanied a helipad transport. However, helipad transfers usually take 45 minutes and she was gone for more than 3 hours.   She offered me help when she finally appeared, but the rush was already over. My impending burn-out was still prescient, however, and it took all I had to finish the shift gracefully.

Believe it or not, the overall workload that night was only a bit heavier than it usually is for our busy sections.   I was only subjected to the abuse that night because of the lack of teamwork that night.  In my section, 2 of 3 nurses were new graduates and unused to the procedures and stress of treating of critical patients.  Their preceptors unfortunately took their training status as an opportunity to gossip instead of helping.  Between Tech Useful and me, the sections stayed functional, but barely.  If any of the other techs had done even the bare minimum instead of hiding wherever they were, we could have functioned very smoothly. The coding patient in 9 might even have been caught earlier had another pair of eyes been watching.  Ugh.

I carefully control my internal environment to exclude resentment, but it became very difficult that night last week.  It took me a week to work through these emotions and I can only hope the new nurses don't learn to become complacent like their preceptors.

Meanwhile, here's to the successful completion of another week in the life of a ERTech.


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