Thursday, August 6, 2009

ER Volunteering

Having spent the last six weeks volunteering at the UCSF Emergency Department for four hours every Wednesday night, I figured that I would chronicle some of my experiences. I figure that because I am supposed to be learning from this experience I should make note of the things that strike me as important, fascinating, or otherwise interesting. When it comes time for medical school applications, looking back on my posts will give me food for thought.

Being an ED volunteer means that I get to assist what the hospital calls "PCA's," or Patient Care Assistants, with their tasks. This means doing a whole lot random things including re-folding linens, cleaning rooms, feeding patients, getting blood from the blood bank, running to material services for random items, talking to patients, and pretty much anything and everything else that is asked of me. Quite honestly, I don't enjoy doing most of these tasks but I know that I am really helping out the two PCAs. Also, running up and down the stairs and around random floors of the hospital keeps me moving and I get to see lots of different areas of the hospital that I otherwise wouldn't be able to see. And I have to say, going to the blood bank still wierds me out a little bit. I mean, they essentially give you a packet of half frozen blood in a red bag. Something about half frozen blood wierds me out. Blood is supposed to be warm and oozing, not freezing. It's not that the blood itself makes me unnerved, its the sterility and coldness of those little packets...

There are many things which make being in the ED very interesting, not least of which is getting to see all the different types of patients that come in with a whole host of problems. I'm not gonna lie when I say that there is something really neat about getting to see people's wounds and ailments and how they handle themselves when they are in pain. It really is an exercise in social observation. For example, last night a young man (who was really attractive I might add) came in with a completely dislocated ankle. And by completely dislocated, I mean his foot was pointing perpendicularly to his tibia instead of straight forward! Ouch! I got to watch two Doctors inject him with not one, but TWO huge vials of local anesthetic before they proceeded to literally yank his foot back into place. Now, for me, this was crazy cool because I had never seen a bone being "popped" back into place. The room became really tense before they the "popping" action because they knew how painful this would be for the poor soccer player. He braced himself for the pain and then grinned and bared it whilst the bones were re-set. Absolutely amazing. The patient was such a strong individual. Props to him and his Doctors. So, yeah.

Two weeks before that I got to watch CT scans being performed on two separate patients, one of which was being tested for stroke. The actual machine is really menacing becuase you are lying on a "bed" with your upper body and head surrounding by a huge spinning, whirring disk. And you have to stay absolutely still. The amazing part, however, were the pictures that the CT scan generated. You could see the inside of the body and brain really well, along with all of the major arteries and organs. Having taken anatomy the semester before made these images that much more poignant because I know what they really look like on the inside of the body. The CT scan technician pointed out landmarks like the Circle of Willis and the carotid arteries to me, and was surprised that I actually knew where they were. I really enjoyed being able to use that knowledge in "real life" and I can't wait to grow my knowledge base about the human body.

Overall, volunteering in the ED has been a really positive experience thus far. No, the UCSF ED is not a trauma ED so I don't get to see lots of gun shot wounds or women in labor, but this is a nice start. I'm learning the ropes and it feels really good to be in and around those actually practicing medicine, helping them out in the small ways that I can. Who knows, maybe I'll find a way to work in the SFGH ED where the real fun happens ;)

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