An inside look at emergency room life from one of the first emergency medicine specialists.
Plaster began his career in 1979, the first year that doctors could take a specialty certifying exam in emergency room medicine. In this debut collection of recollections about his career, he describes his realization that he had a talent for working nights and “multitasking in tense situations.” So he became “a full-time temp,” working as an emergency room doctor at a number of different hospitals while also maximizing his time with his family. He would fly in on the day of his first shift and then work up to 14 consecutive 12-hour night shifts before flying home. As he temped across the country, he confronted the gun violence endemic to inner-city emergency rooms as well as the difficulties of practicing medicine in towns that seemed to be “in the middle of nowhere.” Plaster describes encounters with drunk patients, emergency room “frequent fliers,” overprotective parents and a wide range of others. Some of his interactions are humorous, and others are heartbreaking, but they’re never dull. After the events of Sept. 11, 2001, Plaster enlisted in the U.S. Navy Reserve at age 49. Shortly thereafter, he found himself in a sand pit somewhere on the Iraq-Kuwait border. When he returned to the United States, his military experiences gave his emergency room career a new resonance. Taken individually, Plaster’s stories are intriguing, often funny and sometimes poignantly sad. He doesn’t hesitate to reveal the impact his career has had on his personal life; for example, he writes about spending a night in an emergency room examining troubled teen and preteen girls, which filled him with worry about his own 14-year-old daughter. The only thing missing from these insightful stories is a continuous narrative. Plaster discusses his education in his introduction and places his military experience at the book’s midpoint, but he arranges his vignettes about emergency room life in seemingly arbitrary fashion. If these recollections were arranged thematically, they might have been even more affecting.
An eloquent set of stories about the life of an emergency room doctor that alternates between the hilarious and the harrowing.