September 26, 2005, 11:12 am

When Chicken Soup Just Doesn’t Cut It

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.

Right now:

  • 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.


  • Barbados Butterfly

    September 27, 2005 at 3:41 am

    I salivate when patients produce a list of their medications. Honest. I’ve gotten better over the years at guessing medications (sorry folks, but “three white tablets in the morning and two blue ones in the evening” isn’t quite descriptive enough) and from time to time I’ve pored through a drug formulary guide to work out what the unlabelled medications are…

    Oh, and as for the question of whether you NEED to go to the ER, some people really do find this difficult. One man springs to mind… he called an ambulance because his little finger hurt. It had hurt since he broke it four days ago and this was the third time he’d called the ambulance and visited us for his little finger pain.

    Just found your blog, fantastic writing and hope you and your daughter enjoyed the Rob Thomas concert!

  • Kim

    September 27, 2005 at 12:59 pm

    Welcome and thanks!

  • Julie

    September 27, 2005 at 2:14 pm

    Yet another example of no real difference between the US and UK. It often seems people use the ER (A&E in UK) instead of bothering with their own doctor (if they actually have one of course).

  • kenju

    September 27, 2005 at 4:38 pm

    Kim, this ought to be required reading for the whole human race. I think I will post a link to it on my blog tomorrow.

  • Kim

    September 27, 2005 at 5:06 pm

    Hi Kenju,

    Considering that I think the whole human race showed up at my ER last weekend, that would be great! LOL!

  • Hale McKay

    September 27, 2005 at 9:50 pm

    Excellent posting and excellent advice, especially about having a list of meds with you.

  • *Sigh*

    You write so well; it’s always a pleasure to read you…and truthfully, not just sucking up there, nursie…I’m learning alot.


    P.S. This is definitely, as Kenju said, something everyone should read.

  • lejnd

    September 28, 2005 at 7:49 am

    Thanks. Good suggestions.

  • mary

    September 28, 2005 at 11:54 am

    Hi, Kenju sent me. Very good advice. We have some nurses in our family and they all say how important it is to keep a list of meds and previous illnesses, allergies, etc with you at all times. You just never know when you’ll need it and none of us ever PLANS to end up in an E.R.!

  • ensurt

    September 28, 2005 at 12:07 pm

    hi, I read the link at kenju’s. It is a very clever, important post for everyone. It should be passed around!

  • Twisted Cinderella

    September 28, 2005 at 12:12 pm

    great post. Very informative!

  • Marisa

    September 28, 2005 at 12:27 pm

    Found you through kenju, via Michele. Thanks for the post. I’m printing it out for my mom, who already keeps a list of her meds.


  • Jamie Dawn

    September 28, 2005 at 1:48 pm

    Great advice. I’m here via Kenju.

  • kenju

    September 28, 2005 at 2:26 pm

    Kim, I am glad to see that some people (10-12) took me seriously and paid you a visit. Now we have to work on the rest of the human race…lol

  • rashbre

    September 28, 2005 at 2:28 pm

    Good advice, thank you. I shall permalink this to my blog somehow.

    Here via kenju.

  • Kim

    September 28, 2005 at 2:51 pm

    Boy, this really is a “Kenjulanche”! LOL! Welcome to everyone!

  • Weary Hag

    October 1, 2005 at 3:10 am

    Hi Kim, Kenju sent me and I’m glad she did! What a wonderful and wise post … thank you for this sound advice.

  • Carmi

    October 1, 2005 at 7:10 pm

    Thanks for sharing this wisdom. I’ll be sharing this with my parents, who unfortunately spend far more time in this environment than I wish were the case.

About Me

My name is Kim, and I'm a nurse in the San Francisco Bay area. I've been a nurse for 33 years; I graduated in 1978 with my ADN. My experience is predominately Emergency and Critical Care, and I have also worked in Psychiatry and Pediatrics. I made the decision to be a nurse back in 1966 at the age of nine...

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