Einstein Emergency Staff Makes the Best of a Holiday Spent on the Job
Second in a three-part series about Christmas in the Emergency Department.
It’s Christmas Day in the Emergency Department at Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia. Many members of the staff have families at home who are celebrating without them. They do their best to be festive: they wear Santa caps, reindeer ears, Christmas tree hats—and they bring food to share for a Christmas feast. The break room across the hall from the ED is a smorgasbord: there’s turkey and macaroni salad and cut veggies and pasta among the dishes arrayed on a long conference table.
Brenda Crawford, an ED technician, brought her specialty: banana pudding. Carmen Reyes, also an emergency technician, brought rice and turkey. The two have been working together for more than two decades. “We call each other twins,” Crawford says. Their friendship is what brings a measure of enjoyment to being at work when most people are home celebrating the holiday.
Both women are grandmothers who have worked Christmas for many years together. “We can’t be with our own families, but we are family here,” Reyes says. “Everybody here works together. And having something like this,” she says—gesturing to the holiday spread of goodies on the table— “brings us closer together.”
It’s a Monday, and far fewer patients come to the ED than usual, since most people try to avoid spending their holiday in the hospital.
Robert Collins wasn’t so lucky.
When he awoke in the morning and took a deep breath, the 31-year-old Bensalem man felt a searing pain in his side and back. It continued through the morning, as he loaded his car with gifts for his four children—20 gifts, including a tablet, for each!—and drove to North Philadelphia, where his children and grandmother live. When he got close, he detoured to Einstein, and called the mother of two of his children to come pick up the car, and the gifts.
Now he grimaced—and teared up in pain—as the docs examined him, leaning him forward, probing for answers to his pain and finding taut knots of muscles. Collins had been working in the warehouse of a big box store during the holidays, relinquishing his days off, working overtime, lifting and moving boxes. It apparently had taken his toll. The pain, and the caution of paternal responsibility, compelled him to interrupt his holiday to go the ED. “If I can’t take care of myself, I can’t take care of my kids,” he said. He was discharged, feeling better, in less than two hours.
Other patients filled beds: cancer patients driven by pain and fear; people with chest pain; a patient with tuberculosis; one or two lonely souls with nowhere else to go and no one to share the day; and those who were sick from overindulgence. There were not many victims of violence, as if evil-doers had taken a holiday, too.
Then there was the man known as Buck Wild, who arrived in late afternoon. He’s a standup comic—that’s his stage name—who’s a fixture in Philadelphia comedy. He’d been having pain in his right leg for a couple of weeks. The tests on his leg were negative.
The comedian’s brother, a former employee of Einstein, accompanied him—and had advised him of the perfect day to come to the Emergency Department for treatment: Christmas. He knew it would be slow.
“I figured I could get out quick,” Buck Wild said.
Indeed, he did.