When you work in an emergency department and arrive at work, you never know what you will be walking into. I have had days where I walk in the department, set my bag down, put on my white coat, wrap my stethoscope around my neck and no sooner do I hear the radio going off with EMS bringing us a full arrest, CPR in progress in 5 minutes. There is no sitting down with a cup of coffee in hand and checking email warming up to see patients. Unlike any sport you play where you warm your body up first, with emergency medicine, once you walk in the door, you never know how the day will start.
The other day I walked into my day shift and one of my very first patients was a woman who had just been raped. It was a gut-wrenching story to listen to and she appreciated my empathy and that I was a woman doctor taking care of her. But what a way to start the day, a Monday morning at that. It was like a splash of cold water in the face.
I often think that the long arduous residency training — working 100 hours a week, taking calls and seeing patients in the middle of the night — is part of the training for a reason. They wanted our craft to be so ingrained in us that we would be able to do it in our sleep.
A few months ago we had a major communications shut down in our emergency department. The internet and all the servers went down along with the phones. We literally had no way to communicate with any of the other departments of the hospital – lab, radiology, or admitting doctors. We had to hunt down people’s cell phone numbers and figure out other ways to communicate. It was one of the most stressful shifts of my life not only because there were sick patients that needed to be cared for in a timely manner, but also because my ability and all the systems we typically utilized to take care of them were down. And when I left my shift that day, I was so happy. I walked outside the door of the hospital and the sun was shining, the weather was pleasant, the birds were chirping. It was as if the world hadn’t flinched, while in the department and in my own mind there was utter chaos going on in the emergency department. What a stark contrast!
I often tell people that I enjoy having a 30-minute commute to and from work. Some people think its long, but I absolutely depend on it. Why? One reason is that driving home after work I have a chance to decompress and let go of the tensions of the day. The last thing I want to be is a complete ball of stress when I arrive home to be with my family. I want to be able to take off my figurative doctor coat before I walk in the house so that I am mommy to my kids and wife to my husband.
But I also value my commute to work because driving to work is a chance to warm up and mentally prepare for whatever may be coming my way that day in the ER. I often tell myself before walking in the door that I am here to serve patients. I ask God to give me everything I will need to handle whatever comes my way. And then as I swing my coat over my shoulders and on to my arms, put my glasses on my face and my stethoscope around my neck, I transform from Archana, the mom and wife, to Archana the emergency physician who is ready to save lives.
Archana Shrestha, MD is a practicing emergency physician in Chicago. She is coauthor of “The Chronicles of Women in White Coats” and Cofounder of WomenInWhiteCoats.com. She is also an online health and fitness coach. Her healthy living lifestyle blog can be found at MightyMomMD.com and she can be followed on Instagram @MightyMomMD