Shannon Fry submitted 2020-04-27

When someone mentions the words “medical emergency,” most of us visualize the fast-paced actions of nurses and medical professionals working to save someone’s life, administering CPR and life-saving drugs. I see emergency medical care as much more than working to save a person’s life or repairing grave injuries. What if I said emergency medical care is preparing a patient and their family for the end of life care?

As a new graduate Nurse, I was eager to enter the workforce and care for people. After all, I imagined doing this since I was a small child. Friends and family warned me that medical professionals work long hours, holidays, and weekends. I told myself I was ready, and I fooled myself into believing I was prepared.

Working in healthcare is mentally and physically exhausting. I quickly discovered how green I was. I was not prepared to be yelled at by a patient or family member. I was not prepared to work sixteen-hour shifts because of being short-staffed. I was not prepared for the first time I found a patient in cardiac arrest. I was not prepared the first time I coded a patient orchestrating CPR between a co-worker and myself. I was not prepared for the day after performing CPR that my arms would be so fatigued. I could not feed myself a meal. I was not prepared for the path I would follow. I found my way into Hospice, caring for those who are terminally ill and their loved ones.

I am a Hospice Nurse and an undergraduate student working on my Doctorate of Nursing. Practice (DNP) Direct Patient Care Practitioner. I have developed a passion for palliative care and ensuring all people have to opportunity to die on their terms peacefully and with dignity. The ugly truth about life is the only guarantee we have is that one day we will die; the single variable is how.

Because of my passion for palliative care, I view emergency medical care differently than most. I see it as an acute onset of dyspnea, terminal agitation, intractable vomiting, or a pain crisis. I will be there providing comfort medications facilitating a peaceful death for my patient. I view emergency medical care as coloring with a child while their grieving father holds their dying mother’s hand. I see emergency medical care as hugging a woman who lost her husband of 75 years. I see emergency medical care as not saying a word but being present when a mother just lost her child to cancer.

Emergency medical care can be physical, emotional, or spiritual. As a healthcare provider, I need to be aware of this and remember emergency medical care varies based on religious and cultural practices. I must prepare for this by educating myself on different cultural and religious traditions. I must be respectful and honor every individual’s wishes. Education is the foundation to being capable of providing emergency medical care in all settings. But how does a healthcare professional prepare for delivering emergency medical care?

The truth is you cannot. As healthcare providers, we must humble ourselves and admit we are not prepared for every situation that gets thrown at us. We must remember one fundamental rule; an emergency is subjective to the individual experiencing it. Because it is subjective our response to providing emergency medical care varies. We must be prepared by becoming familiar with religious and cultural preferences as well as clinical education. We must take every emergency medical situation as an opportunity to learn and grow from the experience. We must never fool ourselves into believing we are prepared. We must be learners. We must learn from our patients and colleagues. By doing so, we will grow as practitioners. Do not become complacent in your practice approach each patient and every day as an opportunity to learn.