7 questions for an ER nurse

hen minutes count, it’s best to be prepared. Sharon Tatum, a nurse in the Emergency Department, answers seven questions about knowing when to go to the emergency room and how to get the most out of your visit.  

Q: When should I come to the Emergency Department as opposed to an urgent care?

A: There are some conditions that require time-sensitive treatment to improve your recovery (example – stroke and heart attack). In situations that are serious or life-threatening, it is best to go to the ED.

In situations that are serious or life-threatening, it is best to go to the ED Click To Tweet

Q: What can I do to speed up the process?

A: When you arrive, have your identification ready as this allows us to link you with the correct medical record and start a record for your care. It is important to know your history, including allergies, past medical conditions and surgeries because the more we know, the quicker we intervene.

Q: What can I expect when I arrive?

A: You will be greeted by a nurse who will ask you if you are seeking medical attention. This nurse will determine your level of care based on your medical complaint.

Q: Why am I getting tests/treatment done before I see a doctor?

A: The Medical Director has designed protocols to help speed up the care when the ED is busy. Protocols are tests/treatment that can be completed before you are placed in the room. Examples include X-rays, CT scans, intravenous fluid and medication for nausea.

Q: What should I bring with me?

A: It is important to have a list of the medications that you are taking (including herbal supplements) with the name, dose, how often you take the medication and the last time you took the medication. 

Q: I got here first, why did they take someone before me?

A: Patients are brought back to a treatment room based on the medical complaint, test results, type of treatment needed and the type of room available. Please note that a patient may be taken back for X-rays and blood work then return back to the waiting area until a room becomes available.

Q: What is the busiest time? Least busy?

A: Historically the middle of the week tends to be busier and after 11 a.m. Waiting can be difficult, and wait times are dependent on how many patients are in the department and how many diagnostic tests are required for your care. Please know that we are working hard to expedite your care and apologize for any inconvenience it may cause. We are dedicated to keeping you informed of your plan of care.

A nurse from birth: Shella Shook’s story

I lived with my grandmother until I was four years old. I do not remember doing the things she told me because I was too young, but I fondly remember the stories she told me about how I have been a nurse since I was 3 years old. 

She said I would brush her hair and fix it for her. She said I would get a bottle of lotion and rub it on her feet and legs and massage her feet for her. All of this was without prompting, completely self-initiated. 

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At an early age, Shella knew she liked taking care of people and that a career in nursing was in her future.

When I was eight, I remember visiting my great aunt and uncle. My great uncle would always wear polished shoes. I thought his shoes needed polishing, so I went about polishing his shoes. When I was done he gave me a dollar, which surprised me because I did it out of love. Whenever they visited I always tried to carry their luggage for them, and my uncle would laugh at me and tell me his luggage weighed more than I did and he would take it.

Later in life, I attended San Jacinto College knowing I needed a skill and a job as fast as possible. The counselor told me the quickest step to a job was one semester to become an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), so off to EMT training I went.

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In her 22-year career, Shella has worked in nursing homes, cardiac step-down units, post-anesthesia care units (PACU), extended-care units, and hospice units from coast to coast.

My instructor, Mr. Richard Bowling, who I will never forget, mentored me. During this one short semester, he set me up to assist with BLS (basic life support) instructing and allowed me to help with planning programs in the class. 

Mr. Bowling then told me I did not need to be an EMT; I should be a nurse. I explained I did not have money for school and the waiting list for nursing school was a year. He asked me if I would be willing to go to nursing school if he helped me. My answer was yes!

Mr. Bowling gave me the number to Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA) and told me they would pay for my classes, books and uniforms to go to school for my Licensed Vocational Nurse training. I could hardly believe it — all I had to do was pass.

Now the only hurdle left was to get into the nursing program. Mr. Bowling asked the president of San Jacinto College to write a letter of recommendation to the nursing department asking them to place me in the next semester, and it happened. 

I fondly remember stories my grandmother told me about how I have been a nurse since I was 3 years old Click To Tweet

Twenty-two years later and I have worked in nursing homes, cardiac step-down units, post-anesthesia care units (PACU), extended-care units, and hospice units from coast to coast. I worked as a floor nurse for the majority of my nursing career, and five years ago moved into the management role. I have finished my master’s degree in Nursing Administration from UT Houston Health Science Center as magna cum laude and recently completed my Nurse Executive Certification from the ANCC (American Nurses Credentialing Center).

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Shella is now the Nurse Manager of the Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF) at Houston Methodist Hospital.

Six months ago I started working at Houston Methodist Hospital as the Nurse Manager of the Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF). I have yearned for the culture that exists here at Houston Methodist my entire career — a culture of integrity, compassion, accountability, respect and excellence. This culture has been at my core since childhood, caring for others in a compassionate manner. I am grateful to find Houston Methodist Hospital and to work where the goals, mission and vision are consistent with mine.

I have searched for Mr. Richard Bowling to let him know where I am now and the immense impact he had on my life by seeing something in me and encouraging me to pursue a life’s passion that started when I was a mere three years old.

This piece is part of a continuing series of why our employees chose their professions. Click here to read more. 

Why I became a nurse: The summer of ’62

Toward the end of my sophomore year in high school, my best friend asked if I would consider becoming a “candy striper” at a local hospital. At the time my plans were to become a math teacher. After much coaxing on her part and for lack of anything better to do that summer, I finally agreed.

I remember those first days of being in the hospital as if they were yesterday. My duties were to deliver ice water to patients’ rooms, feed and transport patients and assist the nurses with errands.

I was immediately awestruck and captivated with what I saw within the walls of the hospital. I found a place where there was challenge, endless learning opportunities and a sense of camaraderie. I loved meeting new people every day. For the first time in my life I knew what it meant to feel needed and was heart-warmed by how appreciative patients could be.

The nurses I worked with served as role models. They nurtured and taught me, and I was like a little sponge absorbing everything I could. That summer, I could hardly stay away from the hospital and knew, without question nursing would always be my passion.

At the beginning of my junior year I was asked to become a nurse’s aide at $1 per hour! I was thrilled with this honor. I was trained and acquired more responsibilities in direct, hands-on patient care, which I relished.

Throughout my junior and sophomore years I worked every weekend, and any time off from school was at the hospital, saving every dime for nursing school. My goal was to attend Douglas College — the most prestigious school in New Jersey at the time — to obtain my BSN.

There was just one problem, and that was a major one. My father blatantly refused to support me in any way to become a nurse. Obtaining a BSN was no longer a tangible goal. Since I would have to support myself, I had to find a way to become a nurse and to do it quickly. I applied and was accepted into a two-year diploma program in New York and fortuitously received two scholarships and acquired two part-time jobs.

My patients’ appreciation for the simplest acts of kindness still touches my heart Click To Tweet

Shortly after graduation I moved to Miami Beach and began classes toward my BSN. Unfortunately, I married a man who insisted I withdraw from school. It wasn’t until 1976, as a single parent working in the MICU/CCU at Houston Methodist Hospital, that I resumed my education. With the financial backing of our hospital and the support of my manager, I finally received my degree in 1979.

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Joy Shiller started her nursing career 52 years ago as a candy striper (left) and has been with Houston Methodist for 44 years (right).

I met many obstacles in my nursing education and did it the hard way. But that was good. I sincerely believe had it not been that way I would have never appreciated my career as much as I do.

Throughout my 44 years at Houston Methodist I have been offered many opportunities to move into other positions. I have denied each one because I love bedside nursing. It’s hard to believe it has been more than half a century since my days as a candy striper. Yet, every day when I come to work I still feel challenged, have learning opportunities and a sense of camaraderie.

I still enjoy meeting new people every day and to know that I am needed. My patients’ appreciation for the simplest acts of kindness still touches my heart. I will always be grateful for that summer of ’62. My life has been incredibly blessed because of it.