O Why O Why Did I Pick Up The Phone?

Phone rings.

I look around.

There is no ward clerk in sight.


I answer. “Emergency, Charge Nurse.”

“Can I ask you a question?” The voice on the other end sounds flat and tired.

“Sure,” I say warily.

“I came to see you guys a three days ago and I had a sore chest and you guys did a whole bunch of tests even though I told you my Ventolin had run out and my asthmas was real bad, and you did nothing for it, and the nurse was real rude, like, and you guys took blood and, and did a heart test I did an xray, and I was real afraid of the xray ’cause of the radiation, and I don’t want to get cancer or nothing ’cause i already got cancer like my mother who died of breast cancer and the doctors didn’t do nothing, and then the doctor told me I had an infection in my chest and I think it he said it was pneumonia and he gave me a prescription and I got it filled and I took the first dose tonight, and it didn’t do nothing, and now I have a rash on my arms and stomach and it itches real bad —” The caller paused for breath.

I jump in, wondering where exactly the question lay. “Are you asking for medical advice?”

“I guess. Can you help me?”

“We don’t give out medical advice,” I say. “You can call Telehealth, and they should be able to. You have pen and paper and I’ll give you the number?” I think, please let me give you this number, so I can end the call. She’s not having any of it.

“Are you guys busy?”  she asks. Every emergency nurse knows this question, and we all have the same answer.

“I can’t answer that,” I say. ‘It depends on how sick the patients are, and how many people come into the emerg.”

“How long is the wait?” she persists. “Will I have to wait long?”

“I can’t answer that, ” I repeat.

“Can I pre-book an appointment?”

“I’m sorry, no.”

“Well, thank you for fuck all!” She bangs the phone down.

Thanks and you’re welcome, I mouth. Another happy customer who has made me very glad to be a nurse. And ten minutes of my life gone for ever. I swear I will never pick up the phone again. Really. I mean it.

The phone rings.

I look around.

There is no ward clerk in sight.


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  1. #1 by TheNerdyNurse on Monday 29 August 2011 - 2037

    Because someone has to answer the phone!

  2. #2 by Nicki on Tuesday 30 August 2011 - 1237

    So the moral of this person’s story is that they don’t trust the ED and they want to come back? WTF?

  3. #3 by Marguretta on Sunday 11 September 2011 - 0013

    If it were not for calls like this just think you wouldn’t have anything really, really interesting and mind boggling to write about. Remember it takes all kinds of people to make the world go round and being an emergency room nurse you get to meet and or talk to them all. Also look at the exercise you get shaking your head in disbelieve and jumping up and down in frustration from the others who walk the same earth you do :-)

  4. #4 by Mary on Monday 12 September 2011 - 1523

    We have a ward clerk 8-4 – after that – no one but us 3 RN’s. I work all N’s – so guess what – no ward clerk ever for me. The phone call you related is SO similar to the ones we get many times per shift. I often wish I had a recording that I could just play for these folks. LOVE this blog!

  5. #5 by CC on Tuesday 20 September 2011 - 1118

    In B.C. all hospitals have an automated choice given to the caller: “to talk to a nurse press #(number)” and it redirects to Healthlink RN (equiv to your Telehealth) so the ED nurses aren’t even bothered by those types of callers…..

  6. #6 by Austin on Friday 07 October 2011 - 1702

    Can’t stop laughing…

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