What a Trip To The ER Taught Me About Clarity




So, here’s my story. While I lived in the USA in the 90s for college and then work, I came to know a woman, who I’ll call Sharon. We met at Church. We attended the same Adult Sunday School class and would chit chat by phone occasionally. Sharon was gregarious, welcoming, just the sweetest kind of temperament. She was the type of person you’d feel guilty not liking. One day I got a call from Sharon. Her tone was very unlike what I was accustomed to. She was extremely distressed. Alarmed. Scared. She was suffering from a serious anxiety attack and felt like she just couldn’t go on. Unknown to me, she had been on medication for anxiety for a long time. We agreed that I would accompany her to the hospital. I got in my car and headed to her apartment and we went on to the nearest hospital and sat in the Emergency Room waiting. Of course, before we sat down we did the patient intake procedure at the nurse’s station. And we waited. And we waited. And we waited.

Now if you’ve ever been to an Emergency Room, you know you witness all kinds of people, exhibiting all kinds of distress. However, one thing which unites them, is their desire for immediate attention to relieve their great suffering, and for many, to save their lives. That personal and urgent need often contrasts sharply with the behaviour of the medical personnel in the Emergency Room, as I would eventually find out. My friend Sharon continued to suffer through her anxiety attack as we waited. That had no impact on her getting any relief. After some more waiting, eventually a doctor came and spoke to her…briefly…and sent us on our way.

I was stunned. So, I interjected. My internal thoughts were “What is this!? What is this!? You have this Lady in your Emergency Room having a panic attack. She feels she is going to die. You have her waiting. No one has sought to reassure her or give her any medication or therapy. We were sitting there how long. Now you stick your head out for a 5-min. chat and the best you can do is send us home?” That’s what I said to myself, as I politely probed whether there was any additional attention which could be paid to her to give her relief. The doctor was polite, yet firm, and obligingly repeated his verdict. Go home. So, we left.

It’s been several years so details are sketchy. If memory serves me correctly, he told her to connect with her personal physician who had prescribed her anxiety medication, as soon as possible in the week. In discussing the situation with my friend Sharon, I learned a small, interesting, detail. She had without her doctor’s knowledge, stopped taking her anxiety medication. Her anxiety attack was apparently a consequence of her mis-guided decision.

For many years, that incident of sitting in the Emergency Room with my friend Sharon, and other patients, and experiencing their distress, with the seeming unresponsiveness of the doctors and nurses, would play-over-and-over in my head. I was disturbed by it. The experience seemed callous. As I grew in my understanding of Life Coaching and how it helps develop clarity around personal values and decision making skills, one day the significance of what I experienced suddenly clicked. As you improve your decision-making skills, you more easily appreciate that when faced with an army of urgent situations, all will not have the same weight of importance. You will need to do the hard work of pausing, and reflecting, in order to prioritize the importance of the situations. Having a clear picture of what values you hold dear in relation to the given matter will provide you with the basis of assessing what is most important and what is least important. Values clarification will also help you decide what is urgent and what is not urgent.

In hindsight, the doctor in the Emergency Room with only five minutes to spare was exercising his decision-making skills. I’m thinking that his medical and emergency room training provided him with a protocol (his values). This helped him to scan the patients in the room, as well as the patient intake forms supplied by the front desk, and quickly decide with regard to emergency status, which cases were most important to least important. His protocol also provided him with the confidence necessary to withstand the pressure of angry, disapproving patients and their caregivers, who strongly disagreed with the priority status he assigned to their case. His protocol enabled him to set aside distractions and remain focused on the main things he needed to do to perform well throughout his shift.

Similarly, every day, life demands that you quickly reflect and decide what is most important. You need to bear in mind that you will never have time to do all the things awaiting your attention. However, in a given day, you will always have time to do the most important thing. Without growing in your decision-making skills, and becoming masterful in clarifying what is most important versus what is least important in a given matter, you will constantly feel overwhelmed. The people around you, i.e. your family, friends, colleagues, customers, or business partners are like the patients in the Emergency Room. They, and no doubt with good reason, believe that their issue needs attention now. That will create tremendous emotional pressure for you. Bear in mind also, that as a human being you have biases that will mess with your judgement. One of those biases is to be guided by what satisfies you emotionally.

There will always be a strong temptation to first tackle the activity that will be most emotionally satisfying. The trouble is, without being clear on your values (decision making protocol) in relation to the situation, then falling prey to your emotions will very likely lead to you tackling an activity of less importance first. In addition, you are very likely to over-invest time and resources in that low value activity, and run out of time before tackling or completing what is most important. The negative consequences of this are often immediate and burdensome. Consistently, addressing what is most important always provides the highest value to your life. Developing the discipline of doing that as priority, will ensure you are always advancing, always thriving in life, even when your decisions don’t match the expectations of others around you.

You’d be happy to know, that Sharon survived that night fine and went on with her life. I’d run into her from time to time. You’d never know that the incident happened and we never ever discussed it again. Seems like the Emergency Room Doctor made the right call.



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~Coach Cheryll

Cheryll Messam, CPC, ELI-MP
Certified Professional Life & Corporate Coach
Energy Leadership Master Practitioner
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