Meet the New Boss

July 14, 2010

Police cars, ambulances, TV reporter - something big was happening.

Something big was happening.

Police cars hurtle by and screech to a halt in front of the ambulance bay and uniformed cops dodge ambulances and rescue vehicles as they run into the ER. I have to jump out of the way of a news van as it careens out of alley that I didn’t know was there and the cute little local news reporter jumps out of the van before it even stops, microphone in hand, her blouse and slacks wet with sweat. I run into the melee of my second day in my new job confident that my 12 years of experience in the ghetto had prepared me for anything.

This was easy: lots of cops + TV cameras + lots of excitement = a shooting. Happened once a month or so in the ‘hood. In fact that same little TV news reporter had interviewed me once before when I brought my daughter to the opening of a new liquor store in my neighborhood (“Let’s see what Dr. O’Malley has in his grocery basket – baby formula, wet-naps, a sack of potatoes, two liters of Bushmills and a six-pack of Yuengling.”), but she never remembered me when she showed up at the ER to cover a shooting.

I wind my way through the waiting room and wave to the security guard to let me in (my ID badge still doesn’t work and I don’t have any of my computer passwords) and he taps the wallplate to buzz me in because his hands are full with a two telephones and a walky-talky and he is otherwise occupied physically preventing the reporters and other people from getting into the treatment area of the ER.

The treatment area on the A side still seems alien to me, even though I spent eight hours here two days ago during my first shift. I always seem to be sitting in someone else’s chair or using someone else’s computer terminal, so I spend as much time as I can at the bedside with the patients. I’ve never set foot on the B side (I don’t even know if there is a C or D or Q or Z side). I avoid sitting down anywhere and I find Bobbie the charge nurse.

“Did we get the shooter or the vic?” I ask.

“What shooter? What are you talking about?” she replies.

“All these cops and all this action. Somebody has to be shot.”

“Nope. No shooting.”

“Building collapse? House fire? Wait – this is center city Philadelphia…flash mob?”

“Nope, nope, and nope.” Bobbie says. "Look at the TV."

It took a minute or two for the images to register - a massive barge had crashed into one of those goofy duck boats in the middle of the Delaware River. People were bobbing up and down in the water and rescuers were pulling them into boats and onto piers. We had received the first few victims of the accident and were having trouble communicating with them because they primarily spoke Hungarian.

I looked away from the surreal, hypnotic images on the TV and entered the trauma room where the residents - my new residents - were assessing the victims. I helped with the trauma evaluation and old reflexes kicked in: airway, breathing, circulation, disability, exposure. Communicate as best you can through an eastern European veil of words, coordinate, triage and move on to the next victim.

Paramedics arrived and gave us an update: “There are two kids missing.” Our thoughts were divided now between caring for the people in front of us - the lucky ones that survived the accident and our hopes and fears for those two kids.

I walked back into the waiting room and I saw the TV news reporter and something dawned on me. I initially thought that she was wet with sweat because it was a hot day, but she was wet in the same way that the paramedics, cops and rescuers were wet. How could I be so wrong about everything today? Is this ER really that different from others that I’ve worked in?

I finished my shift at midnight and I said a silent prayer for those two missing kids as I passed the church on Sansom Street on my way to my car.

They found the bodies of the kids two days later.