Holiday healing in the emergency department

During the holidays, clinicians can provide more than just medical care to patients.
During the holidays, clinicians can provide more than just medical care to patients.

I have a love-hate relationship with working the holidays.

Before I started working in the emergency department, I knew I had signed up for a schedule that included working every other weekend and half of the major holidays. On one hand, I hate working the holidays. While my family is at home enjoying the festivities, I find myself draining abscesses or disimpacting patients – neither of which is likely to put me in the holiday spirit. To the credit of my family, they have bent over backwards on multiple occasions to include me, having dinner later than usual or making a special holiday breakfast. If I can't make it to the meal, they always leave me a plate of wonderful leftovers.

On the other hand, I love working the holidays because of the festive spirit in the hospital. Although I can't be at home with my real family, I find myself enjoying the presence of my work family. Everyone brings in a special dish, and we make a delicious meal of our own. Patient flow tends to slow down just a little bit, giving us enough time to enjoy each other and the food on our plates.

Even though our patient flow slows down, there are still plenty of patients to attend to. The arrival of these patients often leaves us scratching our heads – of all days, why did they chose a holiday to come to the emergency department with a problem that doesn't need to be immediately addressed? Why not come the day before, or the day after? Don't they want to spend the day at home with their families? Why are our frequent fliers choosing today to come in? The truth of the matter is that many of these people come in because they would rather spend their holidays with us than with the trials and tribulations that they are facing at home.

Some come to the emergency department to seek out company because spending the holiday at home means spending it alone. Others come to seek out warmth and a bed to rest in because their living conditions are less than ideal. And for a few, the turkey sandwiches we have to offer are the best holiday meal they're going to have.

While we celebrate this holiday season, remember that maybe the person coming in to get their perfect blood pressure checked is actually coming in for a different sort of healing – they are looking to be healed by the power of grace. We can give this to them with a friendly smile, a warm blanket, and a turkey sandwich in hand.

Jillian Knowles, MMS, PA-C, works as an emergency medicine physician assistant in the Philadelphia area.

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