The professional life of a nurse certainly has its challenges, especially when the work environment is a place like an emergency room.
Just ask Dave Higgins, a nurse who has worked for 14 years in the ER at The Memorial Hospital in Craig. The only thing predictable about the ER, he said, is the unpredictability.
“I’ve had people literally dying in front of my eyes,” said Higgins, a Craig native. “Then, an hour later, they say, ‘Can I go home?’
“You have to be able to handle anything that comes through that door.”
Higgins is one of 10 nurses who staff the hospital’s emergency room, a portion of TMH that encompasses 10 treatment rooms and two trauma rooms.
But, don’t let Higgins’ words fool you.
Nursing, the health care veteran said, also has its rewards.
“My favorite time is when I have a full (ER), when I’m just slammed and a lot of my patients are critical patients,” he said. “When they come in with a heart attack, they come in with a full-blown stroke, they come in with a massive injury from a piece of farm equipment. When you come into that situation and make a difference, you can see the difference in real time.
“It’s pretty much an instant gratification type of deal. … That’s when I enjoy being a nurse.”
Higgins and his nursing colleagues at TMH — the hospital’s emergency nurse roster also includes April Anthony, Charity Neal, Kim White, Marie Kettle, Lisa Vannoy, Danielle Mong, Jeni Murphy, Chris Marks-Neece and Karen White — and those around the country are the focus of national recognition.
This week is national Emergency Nurses Week.
According to TMH, the hospital’s emergency room treats about 6,000 patients per year. During each shift, there is one physician, one emergency nurse and one emergency technician on staff. ER staffers also have the capability to call in EMTs for assistance, if they’re not already working a call.
Dr. Kurt Papenfus is the emergency room director.
“You definitely see people at their very worst and you see people at their very best,” Papenfus said. “And, just when you think you’ve seen it all, something else walks in.
“You have to be comfortable with taking a limited amount of data and making a snap decision.”
He said he respects the job nurses do at TMH. Their work isn’t easy, he said.
“You have to be cool-headed, you have to be able to juggle a lot of balls at the same time,” the physician said. “Compassionate. Unflappable, (too), because you see lots of crazy stuff.
“The ER nurses here deserve a lot of credit. … You can’t run a hospital without nurses.”
Mong worked as a floor nurse for five years before becoming an ER nurse. She began her part-time tenure at TMH five months ago.
For her, there’s no comparing the two — working on the floor versus the ER.
“At first it’s scary,” she said. “But, it ends up being fun.”
Her co-worker, Neal, an ER nurse for three years, agrees.
“ER,” she said, “is the only nursing I’d want to do.”
Higgins said the allure of ER work may be lost on outsiders, but the difficulties are ultimately part of a profession that’s satisfying.
“There have been times when every one of us has been smacked, every one of us has been spit on, every one of us has been … you name it,” he said. “It all happens as an ER nurse.
“A lot of people say, ‘I can’t believe you guys deal with blood and gore and this and that,’ but that is certainly part of the job. The blood and gore, the smells, the other bodily fluids, it all comes with the job.”