Meet: Overnight Shift in the ER, Part I

The following post contains sensitive content. It is based on an interview with a woman who works the overnight shift in a suburban Chicago ER.

I’m the patient access specialist, so I get all their demographics and insurance info. We see some pretty crazy stuff.

Abdominal pain is the most typical ailment. Sometimes it’s appendicitis but usually they’re just constipated. Literally full of shit. Especially kids.

People stick a lot of things up their noses, and in other crevices. We’ve had cucumbers in the anus, other things that have had to be surgically removed. They scoot around how it happened but it eventually comes out. Once an older guy came in and said he fell in the shower and the shampoo bottle went up his butt. It just doesn’t happen like that. The whole thing was in there and he couldn’t get it out. I hope it was a small one.

An 11-year-old came in once and the mom was kind of embarrassed. The little girl had stuck a Chapstick up her coochie. But they didn’t have to surgically remove it.

Speaking of, a woman came in once because she needed us to check if she already had a tampon in. She thought it got lost up there. Who does that? I mean, I would go to great lengths to not have it be the ER doc checking on that.

A 50-year-old guy broke his penis once. Did you know you could do that? I looked it up on Wikipedia—there’s no bone in there but a ligament or cartilage that can be broken. He said he knew it was broken because he heard it crack. He had to go to surgery the next morning. Don’t know how they repair that.

The hardest moments are when children die—usually traumas or drowning. One boy had a television fall on him and he died. I can still see him. It doesn’t leave you. Neither do the sounds—of the moms, the nurses. They just kept working on that one boy because the mother wouldn’t stop screaming. He was five.

There have been cases of suspected abuse but I haven’t seen them. We’ve had sexual assault victims come in but we don’t know the outcome. It’s not like you can have a CT and find out what it is. They’re hard cases.

If it’s a level 1 trauma—gunshot wounds or stabbings—they’ll go to [nearby hospital]. We do get level 1’s because they don’t know they’re level 1’s in the field. A couple jockeys from the racetrack have come in. One jockey a few years ago was knicked by another horse and he fell. His horse fell on him and paralyzed him.

One night a stabbing victim walked through the door. The guy who stabbed him drove him there—apparently, he was remorseful. It was over a girl.

I like that it’s different. I’ve been there four years and I’ve never have the same night twice.

Part II: Medicaid, homeless people, and drug seekers

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15 thoughts on “Meet: Overnight Shift in the ER, Part I

  1. My Uncle worked in ER and my Mom was the head of Medical Records – both where always telling stories over the dinner table (ICK). I’d like to say this is nuts, but I know it’s not. I don’t know how she does it, but I am glad there are people out there with thick skin.

  2. When we first met, my husband used to be a reporter covering the cops and courts beat. He saw some of these things before they went to the ER or heard about them from the cops after the fact or covered them in court. It’s a sad truth. But it makes me thankful for the people whose job it is to deal with these horrible things every day.

  3. There’s a show on TLC called “Real Life Stories of the ER” or something like that…I saw an episode similar to the “shampoo” incident! I both love and hate reading about this stuff. Can’t help reading about it though, or tearing my eyes away from it. Such a crazy world.

  4. Loved this one, Jessica. I’m hooked on doctor shows and I admit I had big plans to be a doctor (specifically a neurosurgeon) in my teens. I figured it would take up too much writing time though, so it didn’t pan out. 🙂 Anytime I read or watch doctor things, though, I wonder what it would have been like…clearly wild. Thanks for sharing this!

  5. When I was in college, after a water fight on the 2nd floor of the women’s dorm, a friend slid into a plate-glass window. It was my first experience with calm, efficient, reassuring ER doctors, nurses, entire staff.
    We all went back the next week and donated blood…a positive way to make up for the bloody spatters on the ceiling and floor and walls of the dorm.

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