Wednesday, November 5, 2008

History and the Emergency Room

Someday my grandchildren will ask me what I was doing on the historic night when the United States elected its first African American president, and I will tell them I was sitting in the Alta Bates emergency room.

Here's what happened:

Yesterday evening, I was staffing our student-run medical clinic, run out of a local church. We keep our medications in two big hardware carts. The drawers are labeled and the meds always have some degree of organization, but the staff rotates and the clinic is always chaotic, so there's often a bit of a scramble to find what's needed and see if it's within the expiration date and functional. Near the end of our clinic session -- when the election had already been called and the streets of Berkeley were erupting with celebration! -- a client with risk factors and possible symptoms of diabetes came in. We rifled around in the drawers and tried to find the equipment to take his blood sugar. I picked up a device that looked promising, started to open it to load it with a lancet... and felt a twinge of pain as the already-loaded lancet stuck me in the left index finger.

There's a strange moment when your mind moves from the mundane -- does this gadget work? Which strips do we use with it? -- to the profound, which, in this case, was, "have I just done something that could endanger my life?" Dumbstruck for a few minutes, I then picked up my bag and walked to the ER.

Where I waited for about 1.5 hours until the doctor saw me, asked questions about the needle and the exposure, and finally decided I was so low-risk I didn't need any post-exposure prophyllaxis. But they did take my blood for testing now and instruct me to come back for follow-up in a few months. Overall I was calmed, glad for the experience to be on the other side of the door, and totally grateful to my two classmates who stayed there with me until midnight. If you're going to spend a historic night sitting in an ER, it's best to have company.

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