Emergencies don't upset your life every day, thank goodness, but they do
happen. You're slicing tomatoes for dinner, get distracted, and put a gash in
your hand that requires stitches. Your tree-climbing kid takes a tumble from a
high branch. Or your spouse steps on a rusty nail while cleaning out the
garage. These and similar scenarios can mean a trip to the local emergency
room. What do you need to know to help save time and get the care you need
during your next unexpected ER trip?
When Nancy Levitt's mother was first diagnosed with dementia 14 years ago at age 78, the doctor told her she could safely drive to familiar places. But Levitt, 61, who volunteers at UCLA's Center on Aging in Los Angeles, was still nervous. Unexplained nicks and dents started appearing on her mother's car. She forgot where she parked. Levitt tried to discuss driving safety with her mother, but she angrily denied there was a problem. Then, she would forget their talks about driving altogether.
Come prepared. "The most important thing is to come
equipped with a good history," Lewis Kohl, MD, chairman of emergency
medicine at Long Island College Hospital in Brooklyn, N.Y., tells WebMD.
"Know about all the medications you're taking, and which dose for
Wait it out. The average patient spends 3.2 hours in the
emergency room. That includes time spent not only with the doctor, but also
waiting. Be patient, but if you feel too much time is passing, by all means
approach the nurses' station and speak up. "It doesn't hurt to ask
questions. ERs do get busy, and people can be lost in the shuffle," says
Be alert. Ask questions, get names. If you have a drug or
latex allergy, make sure that you say it, over and over. Serious mistakes
happen even in the best of situations. If a nurse is about to attach a bag of
fluid to your IV or presents a medication for you to take, ask what it is and
what it's for. If you know that you are waiting for a test and it's been a
while since it was ordered, remind staff that you are waiting.
Power off. Cell phones, BlackBerry handhelds, and the other
electronic essentials of life "can wreak havoc with the signal for medical
equipment," says Joshua Kugler, MD, chairman of the emergency services
department at South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside, N.Y., who
advocates turning them off while in the treatment area.
Bring support and be prepared to stay. Significant others
or friends are extra-helpful "if the patient is in pain or needs a ride
home," says Rosemary Lowry, nurse manager of the emergency department at
Providence Hospital in Southfield, Mich. Also, if the situation was serious
enough for you to go to the ER, then you may need to stay for observation or
admission. Be ready for that possibility.
Benefit from fast-track care. Bring comfortable clothes, or even a pillow.
And while you're waiting, meditate on this: You're in the medical fast lane.
"Here you can be X-rayed, have a blood test, and see a doctor and a nurse
in four hours, whereas in a doctor's office, it would take a week," says