The hours are good. Fixed. The trade-off is a constant influx of injuries small and large. Bug bites to gunshot wounds. Hiccups to strokes. And everything in between.
Suburban life, I find, is more relaxed than when I was in the Emergency Department of Columbia-Presbyterian in Upper Manhattan. That’s where you learn to be a trauma nurse. Of course there we had three fully-staffed shifts and I rotated among the 7 to 3, 3 to 11, and the night—they didn’t say “dead”—11 to 7 slots. Now there are the same shifts, but only the 7 to 3 is, “fully staffed.” It came with the territory. There is not the manpower to do what had been done in New York. At least we’re not a rural hospital where they can’t even keep an OB/Gyn Department and a bus takes middle-of-the-night emergencies thirty miles farther because the ER is only open Seven-to-Eleven.
Of course, the undermanned shifts mean that I frequently end up staying past my regular hours, which has the upside of lots of overtime pay and the downside of leaving me so blitzed when I get home and crash and sleep until the alarm wakes me up so I can enjoy another day in the trenches. Sometimes I don’t even bother to go home, sacking out in one of the windowless rooms made available to doctors and nurses.
On Friday night, I arrive at the hospital at my usual 10:45 to prepare for the night shift. At just 10:59 the two other nurses and I leave the locker room in our scrubs. Usually I get the pulse of what’s waiting from the level of noise in the ER’s waiting room. Tonight it was quiet. A heart attack in Examination Room 1 and a broken arm in 2. A few over-tired kids running around the waiting room, siblings of the broken arm in 2, their father trying to corral them while their mother sits with the boy who fell down some stairs and escaped with just the arm injury, now being placed in a cast.
By 12:30, the ER is empty except for the two doctors, we three nurses, and the single receptionist on duty. It’s a good gang. When we’re up to it and we’re on the Night Shift we get breakfast together.
Terry, one of the doctors, sits with a kindle. She scoffed. “‘Gonna be a busy night.’ I tell that to myself every night. And it never is.” We all look up each time the phone rings or the intercom beeps. At about 12:43, the latter goes. Just a car crash. Some broken bones. We go back to what we do. One of the doctors and one of the nurses sneak off to the No-Question-Zone for about twenty minutes. No one asks a question when they return.
Everything, and I mean everything, changes at 1:52 am. I am glad for my triaging skills honed in Upper Manhattan. We hear sirens in the background during the call. A sleepy nightclub in a sleepy town. Everyone mellow, getting ready to go home. Turns out, everyone is not mellow. Asshole with a grudge and a semi-automatic.
It’s been a while. A gang war on St. Nicholas Place and 145th. One reason I got out of the City. No one else in the ER has been there. Now they are about to be. All looking at me. It’ll be a while before we get more doctors and nurses in.
“I’ll triage as they come in. Once you see anyone I send through, just treat ‘em as you would a single walk-in. You’ve seen it all. For you each is a walk-in.”
But not for me. I’m triage. I decide who I send through. Who I don’t because it’s too late. Yeah, it’s gonna be a busy night.