The Heart of Health Care

Last week, as I stood in an ED room for the first time in many years getting ready to take a patient out instead of bringing a patient in, the nurse walked in to say goodbye to the elderly patient as we spread out a clean white sheet on our stretcher.

The nurse said, “Well, good luck Mr. Jones. I hope you are feeling better.”

“Thank you, Joe,” the old man said to the nurse. “You were very nice to me. You have a comforting bedside manner. You are a good guy, and I appreciate it.”

You have these moments in life. Sometimes you see something for the first time. Other times you are just reminded of basic truths. This was such a moment for me when you see the world very clearly.

I spoke up then, and said to the nurse. “What a high compliment he just gave you. You should be very proud of that.”

The nurse blushed and lowered his eyes and said, “Thank you, most people think I tell bad jokes.”


So we put the man on our stretcher, fluffed his pillow and wrapped him against the cold, and we drove him through the city streets to the highway, where we headed north to his town. When we found his small house on a quiet residential street, we backed into the drive, and then went and got the door open and ready before we took him out of the back, where the heat was keeping him warm. We carried him into the house on our stretcher and then went out and got the stair chair and carried him up the stairs to his bedroom, where his wife of fifty-three years was preparing his room. “This beautiful woman can’t possibly be your wife,” I said, “Unless of course you are a lucky man, which I now see you are.” The wife smiled broadly and the man laughed and they looked at each other in the way people do who have spent their lives together through good and bad, and know they have never lost their faith or their sense of humor. We got him settled into bed and and we joked some more and exchanged well wishes with them. And then the man and his wife thanked us again for helping them.

And my partner and I left and drove back to the city.


I mentioned in my last post I am reading this book called Outliers: The Road to Success. The book examines the lives of people like Bill Gates, and professional hockey players, concert violinists, top Wall Street lawyers and children from disadvantaged neighborhoods who have gone on to be the first member of their family to go to college and others who have risen to the top of their fields. The one overriding theme in all of their lives is that effort equals reward. People who are most satisfied with their work and lives are those in fields where they can see the result of their labor.

What I like about EMS and health care is that if you view the work not as about saving lives, but as about treating people well, then on a day to day basis, your effort will be rewarded. And the reward is more than a check that is good at the bank at the end of the week, it is the simple feeling about being happy with your life’s work — taking care of people. This is not a thankless job. The people who matter — our patients (most of them anyway) — appreciate what we do. And of course, we get to tell bad jokes.


  • michael says:

    Satisfaction is what it is all about, for us, and for them. When the patient is satisfied, we are satisfied.

    Patient Satisfaction. It’s a lot more than two words.

  • Bill says:

    What an awesome blog. This should be required reading for every EMS provider. Please continue to share postings like this for us!

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