Saturday, February 6, 2010

On Call

I am “on call” for the first time this weekend. Of course, my being “on-call” doesn’t make much difference to the town, the hospital, or the patients. But it is important for me. I hover around the duty doctor as she does her ward rounds, and slow her up considerably by insisting on writing in all of the patient notes. She puts up with me, knowing or at least hoping that one day I will be more useful.

We get through the ward rounds, and then see to a man who came in by ambulance. “I’m never drinking again,” he states, “I feel like such an idiot”. He has been sitting in the trauma room all morning, apologising to everyone who walks past and feeling generally sorry for himself. The ambulance officers tell us that he cut his fingers (on purpose) on a broken bottle. He tells us that he tripped and fell on the bitumen in the car park. He later tells us that he was taking a supermarket trolley for a joyride, and it flipped over. Whatever the story, he is embarrassed. And he is sorry.

The thanks us as we unwrap his bloodied fingers, apologises for wincing in pain when we scrub the blood and bitumen away. The doctor asks if I am ready, and as I look at her warily she hands me a Chlorhexadine-soaked gauze. “Oh! I thought you were going to make me do a ring block!” I laugh, relieved. She just looks at me and says, “You’ll be doing that too”. Gulp.

Ring blocks are apparently quite painful, and this poor man is already feeling faint at the sight of his own blood. But he holds his hand still (whilst kicking his legs and crying “owowowowow” through tightly closed teeth). As I stick the needle in, as I aspirate, and as I force anaesthetic into his finger and watch it swell, he continually thanks me, and apologises.

I try and placate him. I tell him that he is being good, not moving his hand. I tell him that I appreciate him allowing me, the medical student, to take part in his care. Still, he apologises. In the end, the doctor says it best: “Hey - we’re not in any pain”.

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