The Reminder I Needed

Dr. Alison Smith

Emergency medicine is fraught with difficult encounters, ones that make us question why we sacrifice our holidays, weekends, and nights of sleep. I personally have moments where I question if I can keep doing it for the rest of my career, especially after a tough shift or string of shifts. But there are those occasional encounters that remind us exactly of why we do the job, and they are magical when they occur. One such moment happened to me when I was actually the patient.

I had just had my first child, my son, Knox. It was the best day of my life. Work was the farthest thing from my mind. We had been moved to the mother-baby side of the L&D unit. Our nurse was named Julia, and she explained everything that was going to happen over the next 24–48 hours (fungal and bleeding checks, newborn checks, screening tests, meal delivery, etc). We were given paperwork to fill out for the birth certificate. Knox got his heelstick and his first Hep B shot. We were visited by teams or people representing OB, peds, anesthesia, food service, house cleaning, phlebotomy, and case management. (No one tells you that you will get NO sleep even after the delivery.) The nurse and tech came in frequently to give me Tylenol and ibuprofen, to check Knox and my vitals, and to help me to the bathroom. For most of the first day I wasn’t having any pain, but as the epidural wore off and I began to try walking to the bathroom myself, I started to feel like I’d just gone several rounds with Floyd Mayweather, Jr.

Julia took Knox for us around mid-morning so that we could finally get some sleep. I hadn’t slept in about 30 hours and was running on pure adrenaline, but I crashed hard for two hours when she took the baby. When Julia came back, she paused and said, “I don’t know if you’ll remember me, but you took care of me when I was in the emergency department last fall with an ectopic pregnancy. We were both eight weeks pregnant, and I came in with my mom, and you cried with me when you gave us the news that I was not going to have the baby, and that I needed a procedure instead. It is such a privilege to get to care for YOU now.” And suddenly I realized why she’d looked familiar. I did remember taking care of her, feeling so scared that my own pregnancy still may not take and feeling heartbroken for her, since she’d also been trying for a baby and was losing hers while I got to keep mine. Fortunately, Julia told me next that she was currently 14 weeks pregnant and that everything was going well this time around. It was such a touching moment that my eyes again swelled with happy and grateful tears.

What we do and how we do it matters to people. When we show compassion, care, and love, people remember how we made them feel when they were scared and felt alone. We do make a difference for people; we just need to be reminded of it sometimes, and it can occur when we least expect it.