HowStuffWorks Stars Share Their Favorite Holiday Memories

Learning from a Student

Photo: Photo from Untold Stories of the ER set of Dr. Clem consulting a patient in the ER.
Photo: Photo from Untold Stories of the ER set of Dr. Clem consulting a patient in the ER.

A senior medical student interested in Emergency Medicine was assigned to me on Christmas Eve. The emergency department (ED) was a hubbub of activity. Adding to the chaos was a major trauma patient who arrived along with the trauma team. Generally students interested in emergency medicine want to be in the middle of the action. I looked around for my student, who – clearly just minutes before the trauma activation - was working to impress me with his interest in our specialty. But he wasn't anywhere nearby. Puzzled, I busied myself overseeing the resuscitation, stabilized the patient with a variety of procedures, and sent the patient and the trauma team off to the operating room (OR). Still, no student.

It was then that I noticed the charge nurse had tears in her eyes. Several of the clerks also appeared tearful. Had the trauma patient died on the way to the OR? One of them pointed to the crowded hallway, where my student was kneeling on the floor in front of a patient placed in one of our back hall beds.

The patient was homeless. Her complaint? “My feet hurt.” Her feet smelled so bad the nurses had put plastic bags over them to contain the stench.

On the way to the trauma bay, the patient had called out to my student. He responded. Her chart was labeled with a green dot – the hospital’s symbol for the lowest acuity. Medical students are permitted to see green dots and then present them to the attending. My student responded by obtaining a basin, filling it with soapy water, and washing her feet. The floor was littered with blackened towels. The student, oblivious to the audience of ED players, kept washing her feet and talking with the patient until the job was done. He then bought her a meal, cleaned up the mess, and waited to present his patient to me. When his turn came to present, he sincerely apologized for not being present for the trauma. He offered no excuses, but I could tell he was torn about missing the opportunity for procedures and to impress the Chair with his enthusiasm.

When I went to see the patient, she informed me that her feet didn't hurt anymore. She wished us all a Merry Christmas. She said her “doctor” had really helped her. There was no other recommendation I needed for this student – a future emergency physician!

-- Dr. Kathleen Clem of Untold Stories of the E.R.