August 14, 2006, 2:03 pm

Mind Your Manners and Call Me in the Morning

(From the Emergiblog archives – originally published August, 2005)

000667.jpg Nurses can get a job anywhere these days, but you know you’re old when the military doesn’t want you!

During Desert Storm I had recruiters calling, willing to accept me with just an AA degree and offering to pay for my BSN. Hubby opined that it would not be prudent as we had three small children.

He verbalized this rather unambiguously as “hell no!” and so my duty to country during that conflict consisted of watching CNN.

After 9/11 I was ready to go anywhere, fast, but nobody wanted me!

I was, to use the politically incorrect term, old!

Sure, I’m old enough to be most soldiers’….uh….older sister. So what? Why is serving your country something reserved for the young?

Well, I decided I could serve my country by serving my country’s soldiers so I adopted two soldiers through the Soldiers Angels organization. It’s the best way to contribute when you are fighting from the homefront.


It has occurred to me that most people are unclear about how to behave in an emergency department.

Most patients arrive accompanied by at least one significant other. Some arrive with multiple generations of significant others.

(There is an unwritten rule that any child arriving in an ER with a fever must come with both parents, all four siblings under the age of six and at least one grandmother, usually two, one aunt and a family friend. Grandfathers and uncles are apparently exempt.)

It is for patients and their entourages of support that I present the following pointers.

It’s like those old movie shorts from the ’50s. You know, the ones they used to show in class with topics like “Hygiene is Fun!” or “Dare To Date!”. This one would be entitled “Emergency Room Ettiquette and You!” Let’s begin!

  • Turn off your cellphone.
    • Yes, this means you.
    • Cell phones interfere with monitors and infusion pumps that administer medications.
    • You cannot call out on the phone, and if it rings you cannot answer it.
    • If you need to make a call, step outside or ask the staff for a cordless phone.
    • There are at least 4, 879 signs stating “CELL PHONE USE PROHIBITED”.
      • They are there for a reason.
      • Read and heed.
  • Stay in your designated room/area.
    • Do NOT wander the halls looking into other patients’ rooms.
    • This is not the Learning Channel; this is not “Trauma in the ER”. George Clooney is not around the corner.
    • Respect the privacy of other emergency room patients.
  • Respect confidentiality.
    • By law, the ER staff cannot discuss a medical condition with anyone other than those designated by the patient.
    • It’s natural to be curious/concerned about “the baby who is so sick” or “the guy who was bleeding” but the details are not for general consumption.
    • Know that your medical situation is treated with the same confidentiality.
  • Keep the number of people in the ER to a minimum.
    • When you bring a child who is ill, leave your other children home. Have Grandma or your spouse babysit them there.
    • Emergency departments are a hotbed of bacteria and viruses – do you really want your kids exposed to all that?
    • Adults, bring no more than one or two people with you.
      • The emergency room is not the place to have your entire family tree paying you a visit.
      • Either you will be admitted and they can visit then or you will be discharged and they can see you at home.
  • Call your nurse.
    • If you have a question or need an update, use the department’s call-bell system to summon the nurse to your room/area.
    • Don’t wander the hallway or send a family member looking for a nurse. Let your nurse come to you.
    • It makes for better continuity of care and a less congested department.
  • Do expect to wait. Plan on it. Bring a book.
    • It is never convenient to be sick and the emergency room cannot run on a strict schedule.
    • It is impossible to give a time frame for care because anything can happen at any time.
    • Taking your frustration out on the staff or yelling won’t get you in any faster. This is one case where the “squeaky wheel” doesn’t get the grease.
    • The ER staff knows that your injury/illness is very stressful for you, but patients who have more urgent problems will be taken in first, regardless of when they arrived.
    • Remember that when it seems that someone who looks fine is being “roomed”.
    • Ambulances will also take precedence over a non-urgent problem.
    • If you have a question or wonder why you are waiting ask your nurse (or the Triage nurse if you are in the waiting room). They will do their best to keep you informed.

In conclusion, emergency room etiquette is just good manners and common sense.

Bring a dose of both when you come for treatment and you’ll find your trip to the ER is much less stressful.


  • Gypsybobocowgirl

    August 8, 2005 at 10:06 am

    Love your blog. I’ll be back.

  • kenju

    August 15, 2005 at 9:19 pm

    Me too!

  • Gayle Kretschmer

    August 18, 2005 at 11:47 am

    Hi Kim!
    Thanks for letting me see this … I enjoyed it and look forward to seeing more!
    Love, Gayle

  • Deacon Barry

    August 14, 2006 at 2:58 pm

    We now allow people to use their mobiles on the ward. Their signal is not strong enough to affect any equipment, and besides, we’ve got a transmitter on the roof.
    The rest of it is so true.

  • Susan

    August 14, 2006 at 5:46 pm

    I’ve seen several situations where single moms with sick kids — and no family or other social support in town — showed up with siblings in tow. This is a really tough situation: what else is she supposed to do? A woman in that situation may very well not have the cash to pay a babysitter, even if one could be located on very short notice.

    The ED where I volunteer doesn’t ban cell phones, either, and patients or relatives can call out on our phones (not long-distance, though).

    As for wait times: I’m CONSTANTLY explaining the triage system to patients, and also reminding them that being moved to the front of the line in an ED is never a good thing. That usually makes people stop and think and say, “Oh, yeah . . . you’re right.”

  • I Want My Bloggie! // Emergiblog

    August 14, 2006 at 10:27 pm

    […] Okay, I updated an old post from the archives on manners in the ER, hoping to make it into Grand Rounds, but I missed the deadline. […]

  • Etiquette in the ER // Emergiblog

    August 2, 2008 at 10:40 pm

    […] remembered writing a post on ER etiquette, and a quick search of the archives turned up “Mind Your Manners and Call Me in the Morning”, first posted back in […]

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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