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Published on June 27, 2016

Tales from the frontline: Emergency room nurse

Tales from the frontline: Emergency room nurse

Thirty years ago, Falmouth Hospital nurse Regina Reed was driving across the Bourne Bridge when she could hardly believe what she was seeing ahead of her. A truck was crossing directly into oncoming cars and she slammed on the brakes barely in time to avoid the collisions.

“I was the fourth car after a three-vehicle accident,” she said.

Within seconds, Reed was racing toward the disaster. She encountered two victims who were instantly dead from massive head trauma. A third victim in another vehicle was gravely injured, crushed upon impact.

Reed recalls the adrenaline rush, the frantic effort to help save lives. It was at that moment that she knew she wanted to be an emergency room nurse.

Today, Reed is among the longest-standing, most experienced registered nurses in the Yawkey Emergency Center at Falmouth Hospital., She serves as clinical leader – coordinating a team of nurses while working with doctors, social workers, emergency medical technicians and staff throughout the hospital.

She is at the virtual epicenter of this 24/7, 365-day-a-year world that saw more than 36,000 cases in 2015.

Reed has seen the Falmouth Hospital Emergency Center expand and modernize over the years to accommodate an ever-increasing and demanding caseload that reflects the rapidly growing population of fulltime residents, second homeowners and visitors to the Upper Cape towns of Falmouth, Mashpee, Bourne and Sandwich.

A major renovation completed a year ago increased the number of rooms in the emergency center from 23 to 33 and improved the privacy, visibility and technological capabilities of the facility Every one of those rooms will be filled during many days this summer, when the Upper Cape population soars. Falmouth’s population triples, while numbers more than double in Sandwich, Mashpee and Bourne.

That’s when the caseload increases from an average of about 2,700 in November to 3,900 in July – more than a 40 percent increase. But, Reed loves the faster pace.

“When you come to work in the summer, you work nonstop for the entire shift,” said Reed.

“I love it – the pace, the teamwork among all of us, the constant diversity of medical conditions, and the constant opportunity to help save lives.”

Reed supervises a nursing team that is reinforced by a corps of well-trained traveler nurses arriving from all parts of the country for 13-week assignments. More technical and diagnostic technicians are hired as well.

“We begin seeing the upticks in May on the weekend,” said Reed. “Not only are the numbers rising, but the kinds of complaints change too. In the winter, we see more respiratory cases, especially among older patients. In the summer, it’s much more varied.”

The most frequent complaints according to Reed are:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Chest pain
  • Back pain
  • Lacerations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Falls
  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • General weakness and dizziness

There are also a rising numbers of seasonal accidents from waterskiing, boating, lawn mowers, fish hooks, fireworks, sunburn, campfires, ATVs, cut feet and even jelly fish, she noted.

“We’re constantly dealing with gastrointestinal problems,” noted Reed. Tourists may not be used to eating shellfish or they eat food that has not remained refrigerated.

Another concern for ER staff are behavioral conditions including alcohol and drug abuse.