The Extern files
Tales from the ER
It’s been ages since I first laid eyes on that tiny space at the mighty PGH. For the next 6 months, the dental emergency room became our breeding and sleeping space for (+-) 24 hours every 10 days as part of the rotation assignments of our externship program. The white-tiled room (which used to be the morgue) was supposed to fit in 2 externs, a folding bed, an x-ray machine, an antiquated dental chair, electric fan and all the artillery needed to treat any emergency case. How we managed to make those duties memorable is primarily due to the effect of the drab hospital environs that surrounded us.
The obscure space was situated at the far end of the complex so we had little idea of what was going on with the other departments. One division in particular would sometimes intercept cases requiring dental intervention, not ENTs (oops! I said it). As a result, many of our nights on duty remained undisturbed as we slept unperturbed, except when you need to do intravenous drug transfusion every night or to irrigate on cellulitis patients. Or w an all-night session in the room that you had to light up katol (and end up smelling like Lion-Tiger).
I remember when one of our former juniors would complain of the hazards of staying with one of their juniors who was the daughter of the Iraqi ambassador (this was the height of the Gulf war!) for fear of the ER being blown up to smithereens from a wayward bomb by religious fanatics. Perhaps, one of the loneliest 24 hours would be getting assigned on a Christmas or New Year. Instead of having a delectable (and cholesterolic) noche buena, one gets broken fingers and dismembered bleeding ears for dinner.
Of course, a 24-hour ER duty is too misleading for after 24 restless hours, you still have to attend to your duties at the OPD for another 8 hours. Unless you had a beauty sleep the past night (along with the lamoks and the ipises), doing those surgical cases the next day is no different from pushing a round boulder up Mayon Volcano.
I remember once, when I was all washed up to go to sleep on my beat up bonbon bed (Juniors take the bed while seniors sleep on the dental chair, if it’s any consolation) dressed in my worn out scrub suit when a loud knock thud on the door. Darn. It was a child patient with a swelling and very feverish. Out of sleepiness or fear in handling the little child, we just prescribed some analgesics and antibiotics. The next day, the patient came back for treatment at the OPD, the whole department was thrown into a frantic situation. – Code Blue. The child had an epileptic attack and it took specialists from other departments to stabilize the situation. Had we attempted treatment on that case – what could have happened?
The ER experience always kept us up on our feet (and mind) like hungry lions awaiting to pounce on our next victims, er patients. The adrenalin, the urgency and the will to treat any patient who comes knocking on that little blue door (sometimes, no one showed up) is still incomparable and very fulfilling. We were young soldiers in our blue scrubs, always eager and geared for the next battle. Years after, I still long for that rush and gratification of being part of the 24- hour service.
extern X, cubicle 10, batch Jan ‘90