“Build it and they will come.” It’s a popular saying that seems to ring true for Upstate South Carolina.
“Greenville has grown a ton,” Daniel Wetenhall, MD, one of our emergency medicine physicians, shares. “Woodruff Road was two lanes and you didn’t have to go too far down it to be out in the country. Now, every way out of Greenville, seems like there’s a new subdivision going up.”
More people means a growing need for health care, especially emergency services.
“We’re the most available health care for everybody – 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Dr. Wetenhall adds.
That’s why Bon Secours St. Francis Health System is now opening a brand new, much larger emergency department at its downtown campus. This comes nearly four decades after our ministry opened its first staffed emergency room.
“In the beginning, they didn’t really have anyone who was there 24 hours a day. After a certain time, even the X-ray team went home. It’s almost baffling now to even think about not having the ability to take a chest X-ray because they’d already gone home for the day,” recalls the 66-year-old physician.
In fact, a lot has changed since Dr. Wetenhall saw the very first patient in the hospital’s first true emergency department, who was suffering from a heart attack. For example, technology has now made it much easier to access patient information.
“I can remember when I’d say I need an old X-ray and they’d go back to the X-ray department where they had these big huge files on rollers,” Dr. Wetenhall shares. “They’d then bring a folder that might have 100 pieces of film in it, and you’d try to find what you were looking for. Nowadays – something that took 15 minutes takes five seconds.”
And information isn’t the only thing you can access faster.
“I’d need a psychiatrist to evaluate a patient and sometimes it would be 24 hours before a physical person would walk through the door,” Dr. Wetenhall shares. “Now, thanks to telemedicine, whether it’s neurology or psychiatry after hours, I can have someone face to face with that patient very quickly.”
No matter how much the medicine has changed, there’s one thing that’s remained the same for Dr. Wetenhall.
“I still love taking care of patients. Hopefully every day you find somebody who gives you something back or tells you something interesting or remembers you.”
Dr. Wetenhall can recall quite a few memorable stories from over the years. Perhaps the most moving was the story of a patient battling alcoholism. While there wasn’t any medical treatment the doctor could provide, Dr. Wetenhall did take a few extra minutes to talk to the patient and explain that his “little girls pray for Daddy’s sick patients every single night, and they’ll pray for you.”
Just under a year later, Dr. Wetenhall crossed paths with the man’s wife in the emergency room. She told him her husband had been an alcoholic his whole life – including their 24 years of marriage – but he hadn’t had a single drink since that visit where the doctor told him about two little girls praying for him.
“Nobody hits a home run every time, but you always hope for the best. And those are the type of things that I think, in our technical world where we spend more time looking at screens than faces – those are the type of moments that if you stand up and walk away, you never know. That’s probably part of the reason I started in 1983 and why I’m still plodding along,” Dr. Wetenhall says.
Dr. Wetenhall adds that being an emergency room physician “is one of the harder professions in medicine.” This is because there are a lot of variables unique to emergency medicine. He credits his team members and the entire team of providers at Bon Secours for making his 38 years both rewarding and successful.
“I’ve been lucky to work with a lot of really capable folks. As an ER doctor, you need good people, because you’re not going to finish the cycle on so many cases. You need that next person to take them where they need to be, whether it’s a cardiologist doing a heart cath or a surgeon dealing with something else.”
While he may cut back on the number of hours he spends in the hospital, Dr. Wetenhall says he has no plans to retire right now, even if it does make him the oldest guy in the room.
“It’s like watching a marathoner,” he says. “They might have finished the race a little quicker, but there’s this guy who’s 70 coming down the lane, and everyone’s like ‘Man – way to go guy!’ Still, what every one of those doctors of any age does is hard down there and I think we all kind of respect what the other one does.”
To make the opening of our new emergency department extra special, the plan is to let Dr. Wetenhall again treat the first patient that arrives.
Read more about our new emergency department at Bon Secours St. Francis Downtown.
Also, learn about all the health care services we offer at Bon Secours.