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Hospitalists Run for Cover as Nurses Heave Barrage of Pages Near Shift Change

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LOS ANGELES, CA – Hospitalists know the drill all too well: It doesn’t matter if you haven’t been paged all day, expect hellfire starting at 5:30 PM and expect it to last until 7 PM.  At Los Angeles Medical Center (LAMC), the Site Director for Hospital Medicine Eric Lambert has formalized the ritual, personally announcing overhead at 5:30 PM the iconic words to his hospitalist colleagues: “RUN FOR COVER!!!”

barrage pages
Constant pages about nausea and constipation force hospitalists to retreat

Part war drill, part earthquake drill, LAMC hospitalists seek immediate cover, whether it’s under desks and tables, within a doorframe, or the inside of an interior room or closet.  The epileptic activity of pagers can be measured on seismographs, the flashes of pager screens like little electronic explosions. 

“For me, it is pure reflex at 5:30 PM to immediately dive for the closest cover, hoping that these pages about constipation don’t knock me out cold,” said hospitalist Mary Tinsdale, donning a helmet and safety goggles for one cannot play it too safe.  “I also text my husband and kids and tell them I love them in case I don’t make it out alive.”

The average heart rate of hospitalists in the 90 minutes prior to nursing shift change is 128, this according to a recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.  Incidentally, the average number of pages a hospitalist receives in those 90 minutes is also 128.  As one LAMC hospitalist put it, “Pager PTSD is very, very real.”

Every night at 7:01 PM, LAMC hospitalists convene in their work room to take a head count and survey for any injuries and casualties.  Post-hell fire rounds, they call it.  

“One of the most important things we can do is express our emotions, fears, and realize we’re not in this alone,” Lambert explained.  “It’s the only way we can work through and begin to cope with the emotional toll of pager trauma.”

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