Thoughts on Life and Volunteering from the Emergency Department.

Walking through the sliding doors that led into the emergency department, I had little idea what the next three hours would hold.

The moment that had me feeling nervously excited all day at work had finally arrived. I tried to imagine what my shift would be like. What will I see? Would I actually be working with patients? Would I just be cleaning wheelchairs?

With my purple volunteer jacket tucked under my arm and my most comfortable Nikes on my feet, I walked up to the front desk.

After explaining who I was, the woman who would I would later discover to be my trainer waved me through another set of doors into the ED.

“Nice to meet you” she said through the granola bar in her mouth.

“Why do you want to volunteer?” She asked quickly.

As we began walking, I told her about my interest in public health and that I simply wanted to get more involved in my community.

The first couple moments in the ED were captivating. I looked around and tried to take in every detail. I half expected to see a fury of doctors, nurses and staff sprinting dramatically through the halls to save their next patient — perhaps this was due to a minor Grey’s Anatomy addiction during my college years.

The real life ED was not like the dramatized stories see on TV. Yes, there was a relatively constant stream of new patients, however they were not all barging through the doors barely clinging to life and screaming for help. I felt an air of ambivalence because there was so much activity going on yet there was a simplicity to the environment. There was the sense of urgency that you would expect in an ED, yet the staff was so well versed that they moved around with a comforting ease.

One of the most notable moments of my ED tour was walking through the “code room.” For those that don’t know, a code is a sort of slang term referring to a patient who is in cardiopulmonary arrest. Thus, these rooms are typically used in intense medical situations.

Walking into that room was surreal. It was stocked and prepped for an emergency, but at this moment it was empty and calm. When the code room is being used for its intended purpose, it becomes a completely different environment. I tried to imagine the stresses, anxiety and intense human emotions that regularly pass through that space.

Standing in that room, I was humbled. My very feet were planted where doctors and nurses fought for human lives and where others have fought for their own lives. I wondered if anyone would be in that room during my shift that night. I hoped it wouldn’t be needed — I wasn’t sure if I would be ready.

The rest of my grand tour was interspersed between helping patients and learn the ropes of the department. The nature of patient issues that came through the ED were hardly uniform. I observed everything from children getting sutures to adults with cardiac issues, anxiety attacks, throat infections and everything in between. My curious mind soaked up every bit of information that I could retain.

The entire night I often found myself appreciating the opportunity to have this experience. As I reflect back, here are a few thoughts and lessons from that night I found to be of value:

  • Talk to everyone: doctors, nurses, PAs. Make as many friends as you can.
  • Get involved. Ask questions, ask to observe, ask to help. Be a sponge. You never know what you might learn.
  • If you don’t feel comfortable doing something, don’t do it. Be aware of yourself and what you can handle. But, don’t get too comfortable where you become complacent.

These points are great advice for volunteering in the ED, but I also found them applicable for life in general.

Volunteering your time can provide such rewarding experiences. Jump in and try it. If it’s not for you, then try something new. The key is to get out there and taste everything.

It’s safe to say that in those three hours I learned a lot. The sky is the limit for the rest of my time as an Emergency Department volunteer and I can’t wait to see what the future holds.