Life in the ER

In his latest book, Life on the Ground Floor: Letters from the Edge of Emergency Medicine, celebrated humanitarian Dr. James Maskalyk has provided a fascinating and sometimes discouraging account of life in emergency rooms in Toronto and Ethiopia. Mingled throughout this portrayal are peeks into his relationship with his hunter/trapper grandfather who is in deteriorating health himself since the death of Dr. Maskalyk’s grandmother. The common thread in both of these narratives is the incredible strength of the human spirit in the face of crisis.

He begins with the basics, the “ABC’s of medicine”, and moves through the alphabet of ER necessities. A for Airway, B for Breathing, C for Circulation….if we can’t get those back in working order, there is not much else to do. Interspersed through the book, you’ll pick up interesting facts on how the body operates and how it tries to compensate for lost functions.

But the real story lies in the emergency rooms themselves and the relentless pressure on the medical teams that try to resuscitate, comfort, heal, and repair the broken bodies that flow endlessly through the ER doors. You can feel the frustration, exhaustion and despair whether in the supply starved ER in Addis Ababa or the state-of-the-art trauma centre in Toronto.  

He reveals the irony that in spite of a lack resources, such as modern operating rooms and diagnostic tools, emergency care in impoverished parts of the world may be at times more humane and heartfelt. Some of the most profound healing happens when all one has to offer is one’s kindness and compassion.  

Dr. Maskalyk portrays very well the grinding hopelessness that eventually drives some talented medical personnel from this kind of work. And yet, in spite of it all, he shows us that there are glimpses of hope and that trying again is what really matters.

-Nancy C.