Recently over lunch hour, we were talking together with some new friends at the famous Hominy Café, Charleston. I had a burning question to these esteemed educators of emergency medicine. I want to know if they have any irrational fears of the people they love given the kind of work they engage in. The answer they gave me was a resounding yes. Just like me, the doctors worried a lot when an ambulance was dispatched and their children were playing out with some friends. They are also worried that their loved ones drove in the heavy traffic and as the list continued to go on, I only shook my head as I agreed to what I was hearing.

Consequences of working in ED for years

For quite a long time, I had always contemplated to ask this question about the consequences of working in an emergency department for years. Sure, I know about the consequences too well: bitterness, anger, distrust, frustration and cynicism. Fortunately, this is balanced by perspective, compassion, and love of life’s gifts, appreciation of the common people as well as being able to hangout with former felons and heaving tattooed drunks and bikers without feeling uncomfortable.

What exactly takes place at the ED?

But what I really wanted to know about is the psychiatric, emotional consequences involved and the scars these doctors have to carry deep in them in their lives. Surely, we really don’t acknowledge this and it is rarely addressed. However, the real truth of the matter is that our specialty in health care usually takes us to terror and in the midst of worst situations that humans can ever experience. As well all know every road leads to the hospital’s emergency room. All of them ranging from the raped girl and abused child to the burn workman and addicted teen, mother who died of suicide and a senior citizen who has been assaulted will have their stop at the emergency department.

The emergency center is also the place where new cancer, hepatitis or HIV diagnosis takes place and you will meet all sorts of people in this department. Emergency doctors are charged with the responsibility of telling loved ones that they just lost their dearest. We listen to the families wailing and listen to them collapsing on the ground when they are overcome with emotions that strike like a hurricane. This is what this job is all about, but it is rarely discussed. As educators, we teach residents and students to the bad news should be broken and we advise them about perils of using alcohol or drugs to cope with the situation. And when we are done, we simply send them off just like lambs sent before lions and they start their life full of emotional maelstroms.