Friday, February 15, 2008

Phone number amnesia

I've been working in the ER for about a month and a half now, and I find that this is an extremely interesting place, not just in terms of the patients and the various illnesses and injuries, but also the talented people that work there too. The first CODE was hard to watch; but it was fascinating too. Nurses are amazing; and when they function as a team of 8 to 10, it's even more wild to watch. Every person knows their role in trying to save a life. The doctor circling the bed, calling the shots, try this, try that. It took me three days to get over not only watching the person die, but also watching the medical team do its thing.
My role is something I'm still figuring out, but it's more of a social services type thing. So when the you know what hits the proverbial fan, I get to observe and help with strange things like figuring out who Jane Doe is or trying to find supplies and services for people who don't have what they need. This job is growing on me in ways I never thought possible. I leave work now still thinking of patients I left behind, wondering what happened as the clock ticked on. It's weird. I've met some of the neatest people, lots of them elderly - because I kind of have a thing for old folks. I find that I'm drawn to them. I like talking to them in supermarkets, so of course I'm right there when they are in hospital beds. They usually give me compliments. They think I'm young! And they think I'm sweet. It's a give-give relationship.
One of the most profound observations I've made though, that repeats itself over and over again is something I've termed phone number amnesia. Picture yourself right in the middle of a trauma. Your family member is critically ill or dying or maybe even dead. And now you have to call people to tell them. Mostly other family members. You've known their phone numbers for YEARS, but you can't remember a single digit. Maybe a few digits, but not the whole number. Works every time. Amazing. This has happened to every single person I've encountered in the ER in the last month and a half who has fit the trauma scenario. They get so frustrated. They flip open their cellphones to look up the number and they can't understand why they don't remember it. They smack their foreheads with their palms, rolling their eyes up to the ceiling. I feel sad for them; I try to help. Mostly I stand there with them and say it's okay, it's okay, you'll remember, come sit down.
The brain is a high functioning organ. It knows what to do when. It takes over in those times. Tells you to slow down, forget the phone numbers, work numbers, other responsibilities and worries, to take up this horrible thing that is happening and to deal only with it. Emotion overrides logic, reason, and wherewithall. Is there a solution to phone number amnesia? I don't think so. Because even when you figure out the number, there will be one more person to call and another thing to remember. So when and if this ever happens to you, just hand your cell phone to someone else and tell them who to call.

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