Here’s a picture from an old Curad bandage ad. Looks like the poor guy was cornered by his sister’s “Nurse Club”. No boys allowed unless they’re patients! Reminds me of my old skills lab in school. This must be what it feels like when you first come into the ER. Moments of activity punctuated by hours of sheer boredom.
Everyone winds up in an ER one way or another, either as a patient or a visitor. I know what patients can do that makes it easier on the staff, but what can patients do to make their visit easier on themselves? Having experienced the ER from the “other side” of the siderail, I’ve come up with a few ideas.
- Make a list of all your medications. How much you take and when, including vitamins, herbal preparations and over-the-counter medications. Include your allergies.
- Make a list of past medical problems and surgeries. Be thorough.
- Put this information in your wallet, so that you can hand it to the triage nurse should you need to visit the ER. It’s hard to remember everything when you are ill. (Women, keep track of your last period. It’s important and will be asked). Keep your list on a computer so that it is easily revised as needed.
Before you leave:
- Decide if you really need to visit the ER. Most of the time it will be obvious, other times not so clear cut. Fever? Vomiting? Diarrhea? Congestion? Migraine recurrance? Call your doctor or utilize the advice line of your clinic if available. They can give you advice over the phone that can save you the time and expense of an ER trip. Doctors, if they know you, can call in any needed prescriptions. There is always a doctor on call. Yep, even at 3:00 am. If you are concerned enough to be considering an ER visit in the middle of the night, it’s worth a call. This is especially good to do for kids, who never seem to get sick during office hours! Unfortunately, ERs are not allowed to give advice over the phone. It’s a legal thing. They will tell you they will be happy to care for you if you come in, but they cannot help you make that decision.
- Find someone to go with you if possible. If you are given pain medication, you won’t be able to drive home. Bring one person. Try not to bring the whole family, it gets very hectic in the ER and most have strict visitation policies that would keep them sitting in the waiting room anyway.
- Wear something easy to get in and out of. The first thing you will do is get undressed, so leave the complicated stuff at home. Leave your jewelry there, too.
While you are there:
- Bring a book, magazines, your iPod, something to keep you occupied. You will be waiting, and then you will wait which will be followed by waiting. It is the nature of the department and inevitable. ERs are notorious for out-of-date reading material and the waiting room TV may be stuck on C-SPAN. Save yourself an attack of acute boredom.
- Bring a small blanket or afghan. ERs are freezing. You will be practically naked. Most ERs have blanket warmers, but those blankets don’t stay warm for long and they don’t hand them out in the waiting room.
- You won’t be able to eat or drink until it is decided you do not have a surgical problem. You will, however, have a dry mouth. It’s like your saliva evaporates on arrival, or it’s a side effect of medications you will receive. You may want to bring a bottle of water to sip, but don’t open it until you get the green light from the nurse.
- Make sure you have your call bell on the gurney. Don’t be afraid to request what you need to make you comfortable. You aren’t “bugging” the nurses, they are there to help you.
After you leave:
- Follow the discharge directions. If medications are ordered, take them as directed.
- Make an appointment with your doctor to follow up.
An ER visit is never fun, but by thinking ahead and using the suggestions above, it can be easier.