What is wrong with us?

In December 2008 alone, Americans sent 110 BILLION text messages. That amounts to more than 3 billion text messages per day. My thumbs hurt just looking at those numbers.

I’m guessing a good few hundred thousand of those messages were probably sent from our emergency department … and this whole texting thing is getting on my nerves. A LOT.

One guy comes in worried about abdominal pain. I’m trying to get a history from him and his eyes are fixated on his CrackBerry. He repeatedly hesitated answering my questions so that he could read his 27th urgent text message taking precedence over his abdominal pain. I tried to give him the hint a couple of times and repeated the questions when he hesitated with his answers. No clue.
Finally, I asked him “Should I just text you the questions?”
He looked up at me with bewilderment. “Oh. Sorry.”

Then there was a mom who apparently was putting Red Bull in her kid’s sippy cup. He was bouncing all over the room opening drawers, pulling supplies out of the drawers, stepping on the sink pedals, climbing up and down off the bed, back flips, opening and closing the door to the room, that kind of stuff. The mother, who wanted to find out what was causing her severe chest pain, was deep into a textersation and was apparently oblivious to all of her child’s antics. When I asked her questions, she would give me mostly yes or no questions, then would shake her head and change her answers after hitting the “send” button on her phone. She was even reading messages while they had her breasts exposed to do an EKG.
Her kid was annoying me to the point where I told him not to touch things inside the drawers because there were things inside that could hurt him.
His mom pulled him away from the drawers, gave him one evil eye while keeping her other eye glued to her phone, and told him to “stop it.”
Did he stop? Of course not. The sudden yank on his arm just refocused his attention to another object in the room.
He walked over to the garbage can and started stepping on the pedal that opens and closes the lid. I stopped and furled my eyebrows at him. Mom was texting away. Then the kid put his head in the garbage can and stepped on the pedal so the garbage can lid opened and closed on his head. I gritted my teeth. Mom was again oblivious. I was going to tell him to get away from the garbage when he stepped on the pedal and started picking through the contents.
“You probably don’t want to touch the gauze pads with pus and the blood in there. They smell kind of bad and could get you really sick. And that clear thing that looks like a gun in there is called a speculum. It has some really yucky white stuff all over it, too.”
Mom looked up in horror. She slammed her phone shut, yelled the kid’s name, picked him up, and rubbed his hands under the running water.

And here I was thinking that mom wasn’t listening to me.


  1. I always lie to people and tell them that their phone may cause the monitor next door to fail and the patient could die from an undetected arrhythmia.

  2. Sounds like a “If you’re well enough to text in the ER, you’re well enough to go back to the lobby while we treat someone worse off” policy might be in order.

  3. I think texting is a great way to acurately determine the acuity and pain level of the patient.

    Nobody with a pain level of greater than 4/10 can concentrate on texting. Heck when I had minor flu-like symptoms a couple weeks ago I felt to crappy to check my email and my pain was about a 2/10.

    If I walk in the room and the patient is texting and the phone isn’t gone in about 5 seconds, I determine they are not the one I should be seeing first. “Bye! You are now the lowest on the triage list. See you in an hour or two.”

  4. LOL…this was a funny, funny post. I still don’t know how to text and doubt I will ever learn…simply from seeing the waste of life through all these patients. You captured the waste well with your cases. Poor kid, though, you shouldn’t have pus or blood on you until you are at least ten! LOL

    Have a good weekend.

  5. I agree with the statements above.

    I had to chuckle though when I read “And that clear thing that looks like a gun in there is called a speculum. It has some really yucky white stuff all over it, too.” Now, there’s our WC.

  6. Little shout-out to the irritation felt when there’s like five in the rack and the MD is in the back texting his girlfriend. Yo, see some patients or I’m reading your texts to the entire nurse’s station when you put that phone down.

    • Only thing worse than them texting is when they bring their laptops in and play video games over the hospital WiFi. Betcha don’t get that often at your place…. We have 2 at my place that do that – especially on weekends and night’s. Yo Bonehead… Kill yourself off allready and come see some patients!!

  7. I have a dream of doing a prospective study to look at people who text while the doctor is evaluating them and their emergent need for medical intervention/risk of life-threatening final diagnosis. I am with Doctor D on this one. In a perfect world, such a study could become like the PERC criteria, and a text messaging during MD eval could function as a disposition tool. Discharge!

  8. It should be a rule: if you are healthy enough (and not concerned enough about your problem) to text, you don’t need an emergency room so f*** off.

  9. Hilarious post! 🙂

    “Should I just text you the questions?” Hahaha!!! I am going to use that line – LOVE it!

    Back flips! The garbage can description ..gun with white yucky stuff…LOL! and EWWW!

    Good for you! And shame on Mom and any other parent that would allow that. I don’t blame the child.. but the rude and irresponsible parent.

    While working in registration one night ..as a favor I watched a doc’s 2 young children he had brought with him, while he attended to his patient in the ED. They were maybe 5ish in either direction ..not sure. They were all over the sofas, the water cooler (kids like that water cooler and letting the cups over flow onto the floor)and even jumped up to the blinds and messed them up. I WAS watching them and trying to correct/guide them ..but *I* had patients! I did close the room off so they couldn’t get out.

    That doc couldn’t get back out soon enough for me!
    You don’t miss what you never had. I can’t imagine having kids that rambunctious unless there is a medical reason for it would never tolerate it.

    Actually I did text briefly but never got into it. I would much rather just talk fast. Sure say something funny or for an emergency..but conversational texting ..nope.

    I think people are addicted just as you suggest with the CRACKberry. Worst offense of all is DRIVING and texting! I don’t know if it’s true but I heard that’s worse than drunk driving.

    You all may disagree with me ..but I think someone texting during ED visit does not mean they aren’t in pain. If I had the opportunity to play 1 minute Bejeweled games… I could still do it with 8 pain.. might even be a good distraction.

    But I’d stop for all medical people.

    ***I wonder why so many people these days (all socioeconomic levels) don’t see that they are being a #10 in rude? (like pain scale 10 = worst)

    Unless they are responding to an emergency call… put it away.


    I thought I deleted the you don’t miss what “you never had” comment. That was in reference to texting and had NOTHING to do with rambunctious kids.

  11. As much as a problem as we Americans have with our love affair with the IM, I have to admit that one of the cutest remarks I’ve heard in the past few months was from an eight year old who had just fractured his wrist and first metacarpal of his left hand. I knew we had finally acheived pain control when he looked at his splint and asked “how am I going to text?”.

Leave A Reply