My Compassionate Reminder in the ER

Diane Sieg in the ER

I never imagined I would end up in the ER on my beach vacation. I am healthy, active, without risk factors, and if you work in healthcare, you know it takes a lot for any of us to admit we need help. But after experiencing mild chest pain all afternoon that increased to a pain level of 7 by evening, I reluctantly told my husband I needed to go to the hospital.

I share this experience not to vent or repeat the obvious. We already know how challenging, overwhelming, and downright cruel working in healthcare can be right now. I share it because I was reminded of the one thing we all need most today, in healthcare, and everywhere else—Compassion.

I was anxious and shaking uncontrollably when my husband wheeled me into the ER that Friday night. I told the triage nurse how I felt and without even making eye contact, she complained about day shift and the mess they left her with. While taking my EKG she grumbled, “Be still!” and afterward “Normal sinus rhythm!” with obvious annoyance. She wheeled me back to the waiting room sharing her own cardiac history, still not asking me about mine. She was obviously having a bad day, but I was having a pretty bad day myself and was near tears when they took me back for a cardiac work-up.

Everyone else I saw in the ER was kind and attentive. But what do you think I remember? I remember the first person I came in contact with, who maybe was feeling sick, sleep-deprived, or completely stressed-out herself. I will never know. I do know her dismissive behavior did not demonstrate any compassion.

Compassion is the first CPR practice of Self-Leadership for good reason. To be kind to others, we first have to be kind to ourselves. We also have to take complete responsibility for how we choose to show up, no matter what day shift or anyone else does or doesn’t do. I believe the triage nurse was not practicing compassion with herself so she couldn’t practice it with me.

Compassion is critical to every human interaction we have, especially in healthcare because people don’t remember what you say, they remember how you made them feel. Compassion creates feelings of confidence, calm, and comfort, not only for the receiver but for the giver as well. It helps us connect to the meaning and purpose of our work and remember it is a calling and not just a job.

I never saw that triage nurse again, but if I had, I hope I would practice compassion and tell her how sorry I was she was having such a bad night and even ask her why. That would have helped me feel better and maybe it would have helped her too. Having compassion for ourselves is the only way we can have it for someone else.

Fortunately, my cardiac enzymes and exercise stress test were normal and I was discharged in less than 24 hours. This experience was a scary and inconvenient interruption to my vacation, but it gave me a great reminder of the importance of practicing compassion.

How can you practice compassion and treat yourself a little kinder today?


  1. Carol Brooks on October 5, 2021 at 1:05 pm

    Dear Diane,

    I’m so sorry you had such a health scare. I hope that you are well on the way to complete recovery and are continuing on with your mission.

    I agree with you that the first person you meet, not just in the ER but any situation, sets the tone for your entire experience.

    I still think of you and the many ways you helped me when you were at Windsor Gardens.


    • Diane Sieg on October 6, 2021 at 2:13 am

      Hi Carol,

      Thank you for your kind words. I think of you and Windsor Gardens often as well and hope you are still practicing!

  2. Barbara Sharp on October 5, 2021 at 2:08 pm

    Diane, this must have been truly scary for you and Neil. I am so glad that you had no serious heart issues. It shows us how we can never take for grated our health or make assumptions about tomorrow. Just love each day to its fullest.

    We need to get caught up with you two – I’ll call.

    • Diane Sieg on October 6, 2021 at 2:12 am

      Thank you Barb. Yes, a very good wake-up call which I know you are familiar with.

      We would love to catch up soon!

  3. Ann M Peterson on October 5, 2021 at 2:25 pm

    Excellent reminder as always, Diane. We must “put on our own oxygen mask first” in order to help others. What a drag on your beach vacation, but I’m thankful your workup was negative.

    • Diane Sieg on October 6, 2021 at 2:11 am

      Thank you Ann. All I could think about was that it could have turned out so much worse!

      Take good care,

  4. Leona I Stute on October 5, 2021 at 2:35 pm

    We all hope you don’t have to experience that again – those events are so scary. It seems attitudes like hers are prevalent right now and it is sad but all we can really do is be mindful of our reactions and the affects. Hope all is well.

    • Diane Sieg on October 6, 2021 at 2:10 am

      Thank you Leona. You always have such wise words to share!

  5. Tom Dearth on October 5, 2021 at 4:29 pm

    Thanks for your honest and compassionate story. I am so sorry you had to go through this, but it is a story that we all need to hear and be aware of how important compassion is.

    • Diane Sieg on October 6, 2021 at 2:09 am

      Hi Tom,

      So nice to hear from you! Thank you for the validation of compassion, especially right now.

  6. Ruth Bowen on October 5, 2021 at 5:53 pm

    I am glad you are better. I hope, with compassion, you communicated your experience to the ER Nurse manger. It has been my experience that supervisors and managers are very grateful for constructive feedback. They cannot address problems if they don’t know about them. I am a retired RN. Employed or not, I have never hesitated to share my positive or negative experiences with the nurse managers. The way I see it, poor, unprofessional behavior by one reflects on us all.

    • Diane Sieg on October 6, 2021 at 2:09 am

      Thank you so much Ruth. I completely agree with you and have reached out to the ER manager.

  7. Rachael Stalker on October 6, 2021 at 2:31 am

    I am so sorry to hear about your experience, and I am so glad that you did not have a heart problem, but what you really needed was compassion! We all need compassion and connection, and especially in challenging times or difficult situations. Imagine if the nurse had just taken a moment to gently touch your arm, look you in the eyes and say “ I’m sorry you’re having pain, but we’ll take good care of you.” Just to be present with you, and acknowledge your feelings. Giving you a “dose” of calm.
    Thank you for staying on your path and sharing reminders for a happy, healthy life.
    Love always,

    • Diane Sieg on October 6, 2021 at 4:38 pm

      Hi Rachel,

      Thank you for your validation and you are absolutely right, a few kind and reassuring words would have made ALL the difference. So sorry you weren’t there to take care of me!
      Take good care,

  8. terrie miley on October 6, 2021 at 11:45 pm

    What a beautiful reminder for all of us to be present to the needs of those that we serve and to our own needs as well. I was sitting with one of our hospice patients recently who has a hostile roommate who was screaming at us to “Shut up and Get out.” so we took ourselves (and her oxygen machine) out into the hallway, which was certainly less than ideal. when i asked if she would like to go out into the garden her face lit up and I asked one of the staff if she would help us to go outside and she screamed “NO! I’m not going outside.” When I thanked her for helping us as there was no one else around, she got up begrudgingly clearly annoyed; the hostility directed at our most vulnerable patient, we made our way outside to a place that was quiet and offered some sense of privacy. After some time outdoors together she let out an anguished cry and said that she feels she is at the mercy of everyone around her.

    I later sent a card to the staff member and shared that I could not imagine how hard her work is day after day, but thanked her for taking care of our most vulnerable elders and those that needed her kindness and service now more than ever. I did not wish to blame her but wanted to remind her of why we do the work that we do and how much she is valued as a caregiver and reminded her to take care of herself as well.

    I wanted her to know that SHE is seen and heard as well. Hopefully she can continue to show up knowing that she is not invisible and that she was seen with compassion and not judgement.

    Tank you for all that you do and have done for us, and all that you have offered that we may continue to bring our best selves to the work that we do.

    I am glad your test were clear and that you can rest and recover, being kind to yourself as much as you are to us.

    Terrie Miley
    hospice musician

    • Diane Sieg on October 10, 2021 at 5:45 pm

      Thank you for sharing this beautiful story, Terrie. You are such a role model for all of us.

  9. Elizabeth Hicks on October 9, 2021 at 1:25 am

    Dear Diane,
    I am so sorry about this whole situation, but am happythat you are ok!
    You so beautifully wrote about compassion.. something we need to feel every day, always taking care of ourselves first so we can better help others!
    It is my daily mantra. Send love to yourself in
    The form of a white healing light, then send it out into the world!
    Have an enjoyable rest of your vacation, my friend!
    Namaste, Lizzie

    • Diane Sieg on October 10, 2021 at 5:44 pm

      Thank you for your wise words, Liz.

  10. Molly on November 3, 2021 at 4:29 pm

    Hi Diane,

    Your heart is amazing, be it struggling or in perfect health. I am grateful that you are a dear friend.

    • Diane Sieg on November 5, 2021 at 12:17 pm

      Hi Molly,
      I have learned so much from you about living with an open heart, literally and figuratively. I am grateful as well my dear friend.

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