Grandma has been coughing for a few days and todayÂ she is huffing and puffing. YouÂ zip her overÂ to the nearest emergency room.
First the flurry of attentionÂ — oxygen,Â intravenous needle, heart monitor — though this might notÂ go so smoothly when very busy. Chest x-ray – ordered. Electrocardiogram – ordered.Â Â A few hours scoot by and by now you are memorizing every sign posted on the walls. The Doctor whirled past your curtain like a typhoon blows past an island. YouÂ are pretty sureÂ you’ve correctlyÂ diagnosed the three nearby patients after overhearing their stories.Â Tick………………………………..Tock.
“Soon they will be all over grandma, fluffing her pillows and pouring all sorts of wonderful medications into her,” you imagine.Â She willÂ then be good as new.
There is good evidence that the longer you spend in a crowded emergency room, the LESS care you get as time passes. It’s simple – you quickly become old news as newer and sicker patients fill the hallway stretchers. Emergency room crowding, in fact, has been clearly shown to lead to sub-par care for patients suffering from ailments such as pneumonia, heart attack or severe pain.
Bust as those emergency rooms can get, it begs the question: Should I go to the emergency room to seek care?
Dangers and risks are ever present when you walk through those glass and metal emergency room doors. ER’s are meant for the seriously ill likeÂ grandma who was having active breathingÂ trouble.
In truth, it isÂ best to avoid ER’s if possible.Â Many dangers will be discussed in future articles and in a futureÂ updated book edition of ER: Enter at Your Own Risk
Following are some questions to ask yourself before rushing to seek care at a hospital emergency room:
- Are my Symptoms Unbearable? Worst headache ever? Worst pain in your abdomen? Chest pain that takesÂ your breath away? If so, get help now by calling an ambulance. If you are able to continue your routine despiteÂ less severeÂ symptoms ask yourselfâ€¦
- How Long Have Symptoms Lasted? If you have had the problem on and off for two or more days you probably have time to call your doctor for an appointment or go to urgent care if the family doctor cannot squeeze you in. If symptoms jolted you mercilessly right from the get-go and have not let up then get help at an emergency room.
- Have I Ever Had These Symptoms Before? If so, you may know the treatment. Familiar indigestion? If antacids helped before, try it again. Women are often familiar with symptoms of a urinary tract infection. Caveat: If symptoms seem somewhat different than usual, are persistentÂ orÂ more severe then seek medical care.
- Do I Have Any Serious Medical Conditions? Those who have serious medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, lupus etc. should be far more cautious about any ailment before dismissing it as nothing. If symptoms do not resolve within an hour or two you should call your doctor for advice. Age over 50 also puts you at greater risk.
- Have I Tried Simple Remedies? If symptoms are bearable,Â come and go (a better sign), seem familiar or have been brewing for a few days then consider trying simple remedies. Antacids and diet changeÂ for indigestion, or over-the-counter pain reliever for pain. Beware that indigestion can occasionallyÂ be a sign of heart attack too! Â NOTE: You will be taken more seriously if you have tried simple remediesÂ without relief.
- Avoid the “Go To the ER” Auto-Response From Your Doctor. When you call your doctor and speak to office staff or an on-call doctor who does not know you, do not accept the reflexive “go to an ER” response. It is a “programmed” reply to avoid liability. Be sure you getÂ a logical explanation why an ER visitÂ is truly necessary. Perhaps an alternative like an appointment the next day or urgent care isÂ reasonableÂ if you feel it can wait because you do not feel that seriouslyÂ ill.