Frequent Flyers: You Know You Love ‘Em

You all know who I’m talking about when I say “frequent flyers”.  If you have worked in the same clinic or hospital for any amount of time there are undoubtedly a few patients who seek your medical services three times a week necessary or not.  When these patients sit themselves down in the waiting room, or more likely glide through the sliding doors of the ambulance bay flailing their legs and arms from the stretcher, you immediately know them by name, birthdate, chief complaint and probably even social security number.

It’s a good thing you have this data memorized because this patient is likely drunk.  When the ambulance call blares through the radio at the charge nurse’s station stating “56 year old male, chief complaint of eating a Butterfinger candy bar and a Big Mac and now his blood sugar is high”  you know exactly the name, body habitus and disposition of who will be arriving.  And, that although this person is presenting to the ED for elevated blood sugar they will immediately demand snacks and a Dr. Pepper upon arrival.  Cheetos and a soft drink STAT.

Or, maybe you have a particular patient who presents around 3am at least twice a week.  The EMS driver reports “the individual was found at Wal-Mart in the bathroom chugging a bottle of Listerine”.  You know exactly who is about to arrive smelling minty fresh.  At least patients smell better drunk on Listerine than whiskey.  Sort of.   Despite the stench and predictably crude conversation, you know this guy.  You probably see him more than some of your friends.

Nurses, physicians, NP’s, we all love to complain about the frequent flyers, especially in the emergency department.  However, I’m here to say they’re not so bad.  Yeah, they are a drain on the U.S. healthcare system.  A major drain.  I often have to intentionally redirect my thought pattern reassuring myself that my tax dollars to go to the neighborhood rec center, not the $1,000 plus hospital bill so and so receives every other night and never pays.  Let’s face it.  If your address is “the woods” you aren’t forking over any cash.

But, we bond over our most loved and hated returning visitors.  The collective groan from the nurse’s station made when a certain individual arives again made intentionally audible enough for the patient to hear binds us as a group.  The familiar, and heavily intoxicated, usual suspects entertain us.  I mean where else can you see a grown, overweight man walking around in pink flowered long johns (he told me he got them from a “fancy lady”).  You can’t make this stuff up.

Last week, one of my most common ER visitors raised his hands above his head as he was walking out the door of the hospital (mostly sober) and screamed “You guys are awesome!”.  We’re his family.

So, stop the whining.  You know you love to hate those patients you see all the time.  Might as well welcome them, drain on the economy or not.  They add to the experience and they’re not going anywhere.


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