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The Calm Before the Storm

By Chief Scribe, Houston Methodist Hospital

August 27, 2017

2:32 am

“The calm before the storm,” I say to myself through a yawn.

I’m standing outside alone in the ambulance bay, watching the heavy rain fall. The air is crisp, which is rare for Houston. There are no ambulances, and no patients waiting in the ER –something rare for the medical center.

I take my phone out, I open the camera and point it up to the sky. I start recording a video of the lightning, the booming thunder silencing the whispers of the rain as it hits the cement.

I was supposed to leave my shift two hours ago, but the storm has prevented me from going home. Normally I work overnights anyway, so being at work this late is not unusual for me.

Seldom do I get a moment of peace at work, but when I do, I find myself outside in the ambulance bay. It’s a platform and place for me to breathe, to clear my head and not think about what I have to do tomorrow, or what I should have done yesterday. Sirens often fill the background noise, along with the hospital generators that stand close by.

I realize I’m still recording and stop the video. I go back inside, the humidity sticky on my skin. I sit down at my computer and pull up the radar. The storm is overhead us now, just like it has been all night. It’s made itself cozy and comfortable over Houston, at this rate I’m not sure when I’ll make it home.

3:33 am

A patient checks in, our first one in hours, with a chief complaint of ankle pain. Looking through his records, he has multiple visits to the ED in the past, and always with the same complaint.

We don’t give him a chance to make it back to a room, so we meet him in triage. He’s soaking wet, walking around the waiting room carrying a styrofoam cup of coffee.

“What hurts?” the doctor asks.

“My ankle. I was walking through the flood waters outside.”

“I think you’re okay,” the doctor says, “you’re able to bear weight on your foot. I don’t think we need to do an x-ray.”

“Okay,” he says, unbothered.

“Make sure to document that the patient was walking around the waiting room and drinking coffee. He’s ambulating without difficulty, full range of motion of all extremities, and neurovascularly intact,” the doctor says to me as we walk back to our computers.

“No problem,” I say. This is probably the quickest chart I’ve done all evening.

5:21 am

“I hope a doctor can make it in by 6 o’clock,” the doctor says to me, “I want to go home, make sure my family is okay.”

I want to go home too, I long for my bed and a nice hot shower.

I go outside again, snacking on my third pack of peanut butter crackers that I bought from the vending machine. I’m starving, I never got to eat dinner.

The rain is harder now, the street leading up to the ambulance bay is completely flooded. I look to my right down to the main road, which is hard to see considering it is now submerged in water. No cars are passing by.

I go back inside to see the doctor sitting upright in his chair, eyes closed. Our eight hour shift has since become twelve hours.

“He’s here,” I say.

He slowly opens his eyes.

“Who’s here?”