I gave out valentines in the ER.
My daughter had rejected a box of 32 Shopkins valentines. I thought of passing them on to my nieces, but maybe they, too, would turn their noses up at Shopkins before next year.
The obvious solution was to hand out valentines in the emergency department. First, I laid the box on the counter and said, “Let’s give out valentines!”
The nurses paused to give me an odd look.
Ah. If it’s going to be, it’s up to me…ER edition.
I handed valentines to my patients, ages one to 71. The baby was sleeping; his mom accepted and said it was only the second valentine of his life, since he’d received one as a newborn. I passed one to a ten-year-old boy, who looked unenthusiastic, but his dad said he could give it to his niece.
Full-grown men smiled. They tended to ask for the one that said “You got style!” or “Happy Valentine’s Day!” rather than the glitter cupcakes, but they didn’t refuse.
One middle-aged woman was obviously touched. “For me?” she said.
“Yes! For you!” It made me happy to give them something in addition to medical news.
A nurse told me that a couple had been fighting in the waiting room. I had no idea, because after I handed them their valentines, they laughed and left our department smiling.
One woman whispered that this was the only valentine she’d get, and that she would treasure it.
Only one two-year-old said, who’d been running and crawling and trying to play with the slit lamp, told me straight out, “No.”
“He doesn’t like cards,” said his dad.
“Would you like a sticker?” I showed him a sheet of heart stickers.
“Stick-ah,” he said, and it calmed him right down. When I finally got his blood test result, hours later, he was playing with the heart I’d placed on his bracelet.
I gave valentines to our hard-working staff. I gave them to our unit coordinator, to phlebotomists, nurses, an emergency care attendant, and a medical resident. One nurse was off on break at the time. She’s a tough cookie. For example, when a patient said, “You look young. Do you know how to put in an IV?” she responded, “Can you let me do my job?” and socked in the IV. All that to say, I didn’t know how she’d respond to a “Have a sparkly day!” kind of valentine, but when I came back, she had taped it to the monitor of her portable computer, and I was touched.
Admittedly, it was a good shift. A steady stream of patients, but not so many that the charts piled up. A good team of people. I worked fast track, and only one case was overly involved. I had a resident I enjoyed teaching, and we clicked.
But even if it had been a brutal day, I believe it would have changed the energy in the ER. So much of the time, they patients feel beleaguered and unwanted, and we feel overwhelmed by trivial complaints and/or an onslaught of pain and trauma of all stripes. Often patients leave dissatisfied because they waited too long, or they didn’t get all the answers, or they’re still in pain. If I hand them a valentine, even if not all their problems are solved, they feel welcome.
“No one comes to the emergency room for nothing. Remember that,” a preceptor once said fiercely.
In the same vein, no one leaves my emergency room empty-handed. In the end, I give them the best medical care I can. Plus a valentine.
Originally published in The Medical Post. This will form part of a new Most Unfeeling Doctor in the World book, tentatively titled MD: Mistress of Distress. Just felt like sharing this today.