Tuesday, February 09, 2010

These folks are awesome

When I work shifts in a hospital, I get called to the emergency department from time to time, and I am always amazed at the work done by the emergency department unit secretaries. The job seems to be an unholy combination of middle school teacher and air traffic controller. These folks, along with the emergency department charge nurse, keep track of who is in what room, despite the fact that there is no one spot where one can see all the rooms. (There's a computer system though.) Paper is flung at them from every direction--from EMTs and paramedics bringing patients in, from nurses and doctors. Phones ring constantly. Various law enforcement agencies appear, either to deliver or pick up patients. And the unit secretaries are expected to know what is going on all over the department. Amazingly enough, they do. When the hapless chaplain shows up, the unit secretaries are always there to set me right.

I remember a night when I was called to attend a cardiac alert. The patient was being "worked up," meaning that tests were being run and results returned. The emergency physicians had reviewed results and determined that the patient needed to be taken to the "cath lab" for an angiogram and maybe an angioplasty. The unit secretary had just received and relayed the message that the cath lab was ready to treat the patient. The only thing missing appeared to be a cardiologist, which would seem rather important. I learned that night that in this particular emergency department a cardiologist is called a "card." Thus, I was between the unit secretary and the room, and the unit secretary called over to ask me, "Do we have a card yet?" I peered into the room. "There's a new guy in there," I called back. "What's he look like?" asked the secretary. "Tall, slim, dark hair worn a bit long, expensively dressed, vaguely continental, with a hint of arrogance," I called back. "Ah. That would be the card. Your clue is the hint of arrogance," said the unit secretary. That does seem to be true, and I do think it is somewhat justified, having seen coronary arteries. Anyone who can navigate and repair those little tiny things deserves to be a bit arrogant in my book.

Arrogant or otherwise, this hospital has some very fine cards. For my part my fave is the one who brought home-made tiramisu to the cardiac unit's Christmas buffet one year. You've got to love a cardiologist who enjoys something less healthy than celery. Some of them are so intense about their vocation as cardiologists that their bedside manner suffers. A family member once wondered, vaguely, if his loved one's heart attack made him more vulnerable. Unfortunately he wondered this in the presence of a particularly intense card, who spent the next ten minutes lecturing the family member about what HE would recommend and how strict he would be about diet and exercise. I was really afraid the family member would pass out before the end of the lecture. Compared to the ascetic lifestyle the cardiologist was espousing, I think I'd rather have the heart attack.

The unit secretaries know everything, though. I don't know how they do it, but they just keep going. They ought to get a raise.


Blogger StorytellERdoc said...

AWESOME! The unit secretary is definitely an unsung hero in what we do every day. A good one can make your day that much easier!! Well done post.

11:40 AM  

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