SOUTH PORTLAND – Recently, the local news did a feature on the misuse of our local emergency rooms. They featured our hard-working, much exhausted paramedics and EMTs. A collective sigh of relief was heard the next morning as word of the story was brought up in our morning meeting.

I am an R.N. in the emergency department. My colleagues and I are very grateful for even the smallest bit of exposure to one of the many challenges of our profession.

What ensued was brief discussion on how little awareness the public seems to have about the emergency department, its function and how our system works. We see individuals based on the threat to life. If you have a sprained ankle or a sore throat, we are happy to help you, however, you may have to wait.

The national average wait for a sore throat is eight hours. More often than not, we improve upon that average.

Yes, we understand it is frustrating to be sick and have to wait. Most of us have also been patients. That frustration lends to a dynamic that has received even less exposure than the abuse of the system. The level of verbal and physical abuse that we endure on a daily basis is rampant in our profession.

Rarely do we work a shift that we are not verbally abused, and/or physically threatened.

We understand completely that our consumers are under a great deal of stress — that comes with the territory of working in this field. However, nowhere in our training does it say that we must endure name calling, bullying, screaming, hostility and threats to our own well-being. Yet, we do. Every shift of every day.

Economics and insurance has nothing to do with it. As nurses and doctors, we have absolutely no idea what anyone has for insurance. Some of the worst abuse I’ve endured came from insured affluent individuals. Somehow, it is almost easier to endure abuse from those who present to us “under the influence,” as they are altered.

Ours is not a perfect system and we, as providers and human beings, are not perfect. Yet, perfection is the universal expectation. We expect it from ourselves, and our patients expect it from us. However, we fall short nearly every day and return the next day to try again.

Each and every time, for every single patient that walks through our doors, we strive to provide the best care we can. That’s our goal — plain and simple.

The following is a very typical scenario for us: Last week, a colleague of mine helped save a small child’s life. Once the child was stabilized, she moved on to her next patient.

Upon walking into the room for an initial assessment, the first words spoken to her from this new patient were: “You are the worst excuse for a nurse I’ve ever seen, I’ve been waiting over one hour!” (During which time my colleague was resuscitating the child.)

For the next four hours, this patient of sound mind spit on my colleague, called her profane names and tried to punch her.

Paradoxical? Indeed.