June 16, 2009, 12:39 pm

I See You in a Different Light

squishycapWell, somebody likes their job, I must say.

Although I can’t figure out why she is smiling.

Her cap looks like conjoined coffee filters!

Conjoined coffee filters that somebody sat on!

Maybe she doesn’t realize it’s squished, and would die of embarrassment if she knew!


I wanted to take a moment and thank the two companies whose support of Emergiblog through their advertising is appreciated more than I can say. Both Scrubs Gallery and NurseConnect provide support for many of the nurse bloggers, and I am proud to have them on Emergiblog. If you have not had a chance to check them out, please do!


Sitting on my table: Saving Lives: Why the Media’s Portrayal of Nurses Puts Us All at Risk, by Sandy Summers (of The Truth About Nursing) and Harry Jacobs Summers. I saw this book at Sandy’s site and could not resist. Sandy is a tireless advocate for the image of nursing, and I’m looking forward to reading what she has to say. For every book purchased, Sandy sends a copy to a media representative. You can pick up a copy of Saving Lives… by clicking on the link.


The emergency department “regular”.

Every emergency department has them.

A patient can become a “regular” for many reasons. Maybe they are a recurrent cardiac patient. Perhaps they suffer from chronic pain. Sometimes, they become a “regular” because they utilize the ER as a clinic and bring the whole family in over the course of a month. Some regulars are drug seekers. Others are homeless and know they can find respite in the department for at least a couple of hours and maybe get something to eat.

If you work in an emergency department long enough, you will know who they are.

And you will get to know them.


Recently, it dawned on me just how well you get to know them.

I work in a community hospital. It’s one of those hospitals that patients actually request to go to from all over the county. We have our shifts from hell, but it is far from the county-trauma-eight-hour-wait-time environment of the huge medical centers. There is time to talk to the patients, find out more about them than what hurts, what is swollen or what prescription they have lost.

Over time, the conversation stops being scripted and “starts getting real”, as they say.


This particular shift was steady, but not crazy. And almost all the patients I cared for were “regulars”. Easily 90%. For some, it was their usual health issue. For others, something different.

I found out a lot that night over the course of that shift

Someone’s youngest would be starting kindergarten in September; someone’s oldest had just graduated from high school. Someone had gotten into a recovery program and had been clean for a month. Someone had just welcomed their first grandchild, another was mourning the loss of their mom the week before. Someone had lost their job earlier in the week. Someone had gotten married since their last visit. A baby sister was on the way for one of my patients. Another patient had enrolled in the local junior college.

We saw them, treated them and sent them on their way with a wave and a prescription.

Hopefully they left in better shape then they arrived, even if all they needed was reassurance.

All I know is that I thoroughly enjoyed that shift.


I had done all the usual things.  Saline locks, blood draws. Medications and re-evaluations. IVs and education.

But I had also congratulated success, commiserated over frustrations and offered consolation over losses. We covered birth and death, struggles and successes, dropping old lifestyles and starting new beginnings.

That shift, I saw my patients in a different light.


The best part of nursing has nothing to do with disease or diagnoses or procedures or prescriptions.

The best part of nursing is the patients themselves.

I thoroughly enjoyed catching up with my “regulars”.

I hope I was therapeutic for them.

They were most certainly therapeutic for me.


  • Reality Rounds

    June 16, 2009 at 1:08 pm

    I have always thought of the ER as a high-action, revolving door kind of unit. I assumed nurses that choose to work in the ER wanted to work there because they would not have to deal with all the BS social issues from patients admitted to a floor for more than one day. Now I will have to look at ER nurses in a different light. Thanks for the post.

  • Maureen at IslandRoar

    June 16, 2009 at 6:12 pm

    As always, love hearing everything you have to say about nursing.

  • […] – a nurse – at Emergiblog posts, “I See You in a Different Light“, where “you” means “us” patients. She writes that “the best […]

  • Jen

    June 17, 2009 at 3:40 am

    Hi Kim,

    I was just wondering about the story I read about in the news where a lesbian couple recieved discriminatory care at a Fresno hospital (links below). Do you have gay or lesbian couples as “regulars” in your department? In your experience is it usual for gay and lesbian couples to face such discrimination (either locally or around the state–I realise you are somewhere close to SanFran and Fresno is very conservative right?)? Do non-married straight couples have similar problems?

    I’m wondering as my partner and I are planning to come to California for a holiday next winter and want to know how to protect ourselves in the event of illness or injury (beyond travellers’ insurance). FYI: We are not married (yet) in Canada, but I suppose that wouldn’t necessarily be recognised in CA anyways…

    Thanks for any advise, Jen


  • Mary Alice Long, PhD, LiCSW, RN

    June 17, 2009 at 11:32 am

    I love the way you start your post with humor, so needed in the helping professions, especially nursing. Nurses is a heart-based practice where we connect with our patients and their families in deep ways that go beyond body parts and diagnoses. You write eloquently of the stories that each person brings into the emergency room when they present themselves as patient. Each patient is a person who has a story and your regulars have found a way to make the ER a home away from home where they can find the care they need in a time of fear, stress, pain.

    I am an advocate for nurses and believe each nurse deserves to be called out as healer, sage, companion on a healing journey. The media sometimes labels nurses negatively depicting nurses in ways that are disrespectful and devaluing. In your writing you have put a human face on nursing.

    I believe that nurses are absolutely necessary especially in our current health care system that is broken and needs mending. Nurses are being called as decision-makers, leaders, teachers, and researchers in multiple fields in the larger medical model.

    Thank you for your post. I lead events for nurses utilizing InterPlay forms and practice and am committed to research and development as a nurse and helping professional through the arts, play, and writing. Play=Peace

  • Nicole

    June 18, 2009 at 8:31 am

    Hey, did you watch Harthorne? I was pretty disappointed, especially with a lot of plain inaccuracies, like the guy coding from receiving 6 units of insulin (I heard 6, others say it was 16), or him recapping the needle; and never mind the fact that he just plain followed an order he didn’t agree with, like nurses are just idiots who only follow doctor’s orders. stupid.

  • Nicole

    June 18, 2009 at 8:33 am

    oh and the nurse in the beginning who was doing something sexual to the patient (i couldn’t tell if the patient was dreaming when he got a foley placed or if she really was giving some “extra tlc”). or the or they made the nurses look so dumb, like during the meeting the only important information was how hot they thought the paramedic was…oook

  • Julie Rosen

    June 18, 2009 at 8:46 am

    How lucky your patients are to have a nurse like you. And as you
    probably know, your engagement has many benefits for your patients,
    beyond that one-off encounter in the ER. For example, in one study of
    oncology patients, patients reported that the degree to which they had
    felt ‘known’ by their health care provider, understood as a human
    distinct from the diseased organ, was a powerful force, often shaping
    their entire cancer care experience.

    Julie Rosen

  • Helen

    June 18, 2009 at 11:58 am

    Thanks for this. I’ve never been to the ER but I’m a frequent cardiac and rheumatology patient. It makes an enormous difference when I don’t feel like a burden to my nurses and doctors. I’m lucky to have formed friendly and humour-filled relationships with some of them, and I think it makes it better for all of us.

  • Candy

    June 19, 2009 at 8:41 am

    Amen — and so nice to hear.

  • NPs Save Lives

    June 19, 2009 at 8:05 pm

    I agree and I enjoy the same with my regulars at the office. I get to take care of entire families and watch the changes for the good and bad.

  • Max E Nurse

    August 11, 2009 at 12:40 am

    Very poetic post.

    We used to have a regular who always “tried” to hang himself in the corridor on oxygen tubing… All the other patients relatives used to run up to us and shout to staff “quick that guys trying to hang himself”, and the staff used to calmly reply. “Don’t worry, he always does that…”.

    You’ve just inspired me to steal your post topic!

  • […] } Back in June Kim posted a rather poetic account of a shift in the ER where lots of her regulars turned up at once, bit of a “four weddings and a funeral” post, well more of a “one recovering drug […]

About Me

My name is Kim, and I'm a nurse in the San Francisco Bay area. I've been a nurse for 33 years; I graduated in 1978 with my ADN. My experience is predominately Emergency and Critical Care, and I have also worked in Psychiatry and Pediatrics. I made the decision to be a nurse back in 1966 at the age of nine...

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