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It takes a village – even on a holiday

By Debra Guinn, MD, maternal-fetal specialist, Montana Perinatal Center

With the arrival of the New Year, I, like many others, find this a good time to reflect on the prior year, make a few plans for the incoming year and take stock of what I’m thankful for in my life. This holiday season I was on call, which means that medical staff are required to be immediately available 24 hours a day when called. We also must be able to arrive to the hospital within 30 minutes for an emergency at any hour. As a maternal-fetal specialist, the calls I respond to almost always involve women with complications of pregnancy or delivery when extra help or expertise is needed. While being on call can interrupt life at unexpected times, I am honored to help my patients when they are in need.

As in many households around the holidays, the week before Christmas was hectic in my home as we were busily preparing for festivities. In addition to a full house of guests, my office (Montana Perinatal Center) and Kalispell Regional Medical Center were quite full with patients as well.

Only three days before Christmas, I finished trimming the tree, shopped for gifts, cleaned, cooked, welcomed out-of-town guests and leaned on my wonderful husband to help me with all these added tasks in the event I needed to dash off to the hospital. It’s a crazy time of year, but even the crazy has some magic sprinkled in, with the anticipation of spending this time with family and friends. In the back of my mind, however, I had to remind myself that I was still on call at the hospital and had to be ready to tend to patients, if needed. Admittedly, I also hoped that I would be able to spend this time with my family and that we could all be together for this special time.

In these thoughts, I realized just how many people work in a hospital over the holidays – foregoing family time to be there for others. I was lucky to be on call, I thought. Others are required to work at the hospital regardless of need or number of patients. A community must have a fully functioning facility for patients, even on a holiday.

I then reflected on my past experiences when I had to make an unexpected trip to the doctor’s office, urgent care clinic or a hospital. I recalled a memory a few years ago when my lovely daughter, Kelsey, fell off a horse and broke her collarbone on Christmas Day. She also showed signs of a possible concussion. There was no time to waste. We hopped in the car and headed straight to the emergency room. We were greeted by the nursing staff who assessed the situation and whether or not we could wait a bit for care when compared to other waiting patients. After seeing the nurses, we met with the admitting staff who collected necessary paperwork like insurance information. We sat in the waiting room and, well, waited. Like anyone who has ever been in the emergency room, it was frustrating not knowing when a doctor would appear or when it would be our turn. My daughter was in pain and I was an anxious mother eager to help ease my child’s suffering.

However, when I looked at the scene through the eyes of a doctor, I realized that there was a lot going on: there were multiple people with equal or worse injuries than Kelsey who also required care. Some were in critical need. We arrived in such a flurry that I did not even note several staff on hand including front office personal, security guards, additional nurses, housekeeping employees, radiology technicians, operating room staff, administrators and physicians. All these people were doing everything they could to assist patients and eventually get to my daughter. They knew she was in pain. Of course they were concerned, as I was. But they weren’t concerned because she was the daughter of a physician. They were concerned because she was in pain and needed medical attention. Every worker on that shift was frustrated and bothered at that moment because they simply could not help everyone that needed helping at the same time. That’s what medical professionals and support staff are there to do: to help others. Even on a holiday. And I was very thankful they were there that day to help Kelsey.

When we got to the exam room, Kelsey was seen by a very kind nurse, an orderly, the radiology technicians and a physician. She had an X-ray of her broken bone and a CT scan of her brain, and received medication to ease her pain. Our physician explained the extent of her injuries and our next steps. Kelsey was going to be OK. As a mom, I could finally exhale and relax a bit. As a doctor, I respected how the entire ER staff juggled the many demands and the expert care they gave my daughter.

There are so many staff members at care facilities like clinics and hospitals who deserve heartfelt thanks. I am sure there are also many behind-the-scenes employees that I may fail to list specifically, but merit the same gratitude. I want to thank the nursing staff and medical assistants who work tirelessly to help physicians meet the needs of the community. Social workers, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, physical therapists, occupational therapists, respiratory therapists, dietitians, certified diabetes educators, laboratory technicians, housekeeping and volunteers who all play an important part in our patient care at Kalispell Regional Healthcare. On another level is our administrative staff, which includes countless numbers of individuals with different skill sets, from coders, billers, quality assurance, risk management and health administrative technologists to our new CEO and board of trustees. All of these individuals make the gears turn in our health care system and offer valuable contributions that patients may never see firsthand. The next time you’re in the hospital or getting a checkup at your local clinic, be sure to notice these amazing people. They each deserve a pat on the back.

And just in case you were wondering, I did have the opportunity to spend Christmas with my family and my first prime rib undertaking turned out alright. As the first weeks of 2018 pass by, I reflect on the goodness in my life. I am so thankful for my family, friends and the incredible staff at Montana Perinatal Center. Our team of medical professionals at MPC looks forward to another year of helping our patients. Even on a holiday.

First published in Montana Woman magazine, February 2018