Why you should care

Because sometimes it’s OK to talk to strangers.

In this occasional series, OZY takes to streets and neighborhoods across the globe to ask a simple question: “How was your day?”

Jason Hanley, M.D.
Vancouver, Washington

I walk into work this morning with a fresh cup of coffee and I see three patients waiting. I’m ready for a normal day. Except that’s the thing with working in the emergency room: There’s never really a normal day. No two shifts are ever the same. Suddenly a nurse grabs me — there’s apparently a fourth patient, who I’m assuming is critically ill. I go into the room and realize he’s not critically ill but strapped down on the table and screaming. Meth intoxication. Meth is a huge problem in the greater Portland/Vancouver area. He’s yelling obscenities, top of his lungs. “Fuck! Fuck! FUCK!”

He’s in his 30s, 230 pounds. He’s throwing his body up and down as two ER techs are holding his arms and ankles, trying to control him, for the patient’s protection as well as their own. The guy’s glaring at one of the techs, a former Marine and Vietnam veteran. “I’m gonna rip your heart out and eat it!” he says.

I look around and see our security team nearby. We have one guy over 65. An 18-year-old, who’s only about 118 pounds. The six security guards and ER techs are attempting to physically restrain the patient — we need to give him medication to calm him. But he’s going nuts.

I say, “Let’s call in the police.” The security team is like, really? Do we have to? But I’m the doctor, I’m in charge. And I don’t feel good about it. Somehow, we manage to get the patient into a seclusion room. Then, four minutes later, the police arrive. Two large men. They peer through the small square window and look back at me. “We’re not going in there,” they say. “He’s too violent.” The guy is now slamming his head and fists against the wall. Blood is dripping down his forehead.

The police call for backup. Now there are four police officers. They’re young and healthy and muscular. The plan is for the four of them to hold the patient down while two nurses give him shots of a sedative. Each officer declares a limb: One will take the right arm, one the left leg, etc. They start counting down to storm the room, “Three, two, …” but then they stop. “Wait, wait, hey, Doc,” they say. “Are you comfortable having us tase him?” They’re too nervous. I say, “Do what you have to do.” They tase the patient. That’s extreme.

Not even four cops would do what six nurses were willing to do.

 

It was a profound moment. It goes to show what ER techs and nurses put themselves through on a daily basis. They get hit all the time. Spit on all the time.

I thought maybe I was being overly cautious, calling in the police. I thought maybe I was wasting resources. But not even four cops would do what six nurses were willing to do. Those nurses were willing to go in there and risk their lives to help a patient.

You get kind of desensitized to the dangers you face every day.

Most people think of ER docs as intense and extreme. But our personalities are quite the opposite. We’re typically easygoing, flexible. I knew I wanted to be a doctor when I was 15. I had back surgery and started thinking about going into medicine while recovering in the hospital; that vision never faded. My dad was a high school history teacher and my mom was with us at home. I took out loans for college and med school. It’s like another mortgage payment every month, but I’ve always looked at it as an investment. My loans were significant, but these days it’s gotten worse. I’m worried about the current finances of attending medical school. It’s crazy. These days, doctors are graduating with $250,000 in debt.

And then they have days like this.

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Good stories from around the globe. Essays and immersion, into the harrowing, the sweet, the surprising -- the human.