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Inside your ER: The life of an emergency room doctor

Posted at 1:53 PM, May 14, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-15 17:29:12-04

When you're facing a medical emergency, you trust your life to the doctors at in the emergency room. Those doctors sometimes have just seconds to make life or death decisions. Four in Your Corner is giving you an inside look as to what it's like to be an ER doctor.

"I love the pace of things and it takes a certain person to be an ER doctor," Dr. Keith Burley, who works in Cape Coral Hospital's emergency room, said/ "Emergency medicine is a true team sport. It takes the whole department to really resuscitate someone who is very sick."

"Say someone comes in in cardiac arrest. They come in right through our trauma bay doors. They're dropped into one of our resuscitation rooms. Our team organizes very quickly. Everyone knows their jobs," Dr. Burley said.

\In cases like this, techs will be running IVs; nurses will be hooking up defibrillation pads. Pharmacists will be running drugs. Staff will be trying to find out a patient's name. Dr. Burley said it's all about balancing quickness with efficiency while making sure patients are safe during triage.

"It's very important we triage effectively, making sure we point out and pick up the really sick people early on so we dedicate most of our resources to those sick people," Dr. Burley said. "We do need to triage because we have limited resources we need to effectively implement."

Dr. Burley said when he sees a patient, he's trained to think worst case-scenario first.

"So someone coming in with a headache, we think, could this be a stroke? Could this be a subarachnoid hemorrhage? Could this be something else going on? Before we think it's just a headache," he said.

Dr. Burley has known he's wanted to be a doctor since he was four years old after he was in a life-changing, dangerous situation.

"Like a good Canadian, I was tobogganing down a hill. We were going down the hill and my brother bailed. We continued to go down the hill and I hit a tree with my head," he said.

He had a fractured skull and lost hearing in his left ear.

"I was seen by ER doctors, trauma doctors, a pediatric neurologist, had multiple MRIs," he said. "From that point on, as a young child, I always wanted to be a doctor."

He said one of his most bizarre cases was just hours before Hurricane Irma hit. A dog was brought into the ER with it's eye hanging out.

"I'm not a veterinarian and I don't pretend to be one. I have a dog but it's a little out of my realm," Dr. Burley said. "We placed a pressured dressing and one of the staff members was able to call around to get a vet to see that dog just before the storm."

For that dog and family, it was a happy ending, but Dr. Burley said the hardest part about emergency medicine are the days he deals with death and dying.

"It takes a certain person to deal with death and dying every day and then come back. It's a resiliency characteristic that all the ER staff have," Dr. Burley said.

Whether their patients survive or not, the doctors have to learn to compartmentalize -- going from patient to patient until the end of their eight to 10 hour shift.

"We'll see a pediatric drowning, and then the next case we'll see someone with an eyeball injury, or someone with a simple laceration, and we have to give that patient the same amount of attention we gave the other patient and reset," he said.

"It's a privilege to be in a discipline where you get to see someone on their worst day of their entire life, and if you can make that a little better, you've done your job," he said.

Dr. Burley said to unwind, he spends a lot of time at the beach and kite surfing.