I often joke about the first time I ran Side1 as the sole resident. It’s a rite of passage here in our program. During our adult Emergency Medicine months, every so often, one of the interns is responsible for holding down the fort on Side1 in the Bellevue ED during the weekend. To those who are unfamiliar, Side1 is a cozy little corner of our Emergency Department that has 6 patient slots and should hold 12 patients. Of course, on most days, it holds over 20.
A few hours into that first shift, after I began carrying eight patients (four of whom I had yet to write notes for and needed IVs placed and labs drawn), I half-jokingly told my attending that we should probably overhead page, “Side 1 is now on diversion.” Needless to say, she was not particularly pleased. Somehow, twelve hours came and went and I eventually made it back to my apartment beaten and downtrodden.
I’m sure for the rest of my career, I won’t ever forget that shift. And not because of any particular pathology or the sheer number of patients I saw that day; but because of the overwhelming feeling of hopelessness and despair that enveloped me – that I would never be able to catch up. That no matter how hard I worked, I would be doing a disservice to my patients because I just wasn’t good enough. That maybe it just wasn’t worth the fight.
Looking back, I felt much of the very same sentiment during election night this year. As the results clocked in during the fleeting hours of the night and early morning, I faced a reality that I thought would never come to life. And though I promised myself that I would not rant and rave about recent political events (and I’m well aware that I’m probably yelling into an echo chamber right now), I can’t help but feel an urge to send out a call – a certain “call to arms” if you will.
There are individuals far more intelligent and articulate than I am in describing the far-reaching effects of what transpired. What I can attest to, is the impassioned response of my colleagues and those far wiser and more experienced. What ensued in the following days was not passive acceptance or resignation; nor was it outrage. Instead, I was met with an inspired recapitulation of what our profession stands for – that we are here for all, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, creed, religious affiliation, race, political stance, or socioeconomic status.
I was galvanized by the fervor with which my peers spoke – that our jobs are now more important than ever. That we should not overlook our responsibility to each other and to our patients. That this could be one of the defining moments for our generation of clinicians. The day after the election, in a calmness that only Dr. Goldfrank can impart, he spoke, “Nothing changes today…we must have a stubborn optimism to fix the needs of our patients.”
In short, none of this will change how I practice. But the next time I come home after a difficult shift, I’ll remember not to feel defeated. For better or worse, even at the ripe old age of 26 and barely a physician, my patients depend on me. And perhaps now more than ever do they need people like us. In a recent morning conference, one of our attendings reminded us that we often care for patients during some of the worst days of their lives. Let us never forget that.
The response of the medical field has been nothing short of inspiring. And I am humbled to fight alongside all of you. But this is just the beginning.
“…But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”
-Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost