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Many of you know that I am a stay at home mom, but what you probably don’t know is before that, I was an Emergency Room nurse for about 14 years. I have been out of the nursing game for a few years, but I wanted to share a some things that you might want to know before going to the ER. Definitely some things the ER nurse WANTS you to know before you show up with your emergency. So, here are my top 5 pieces of advice!
1. Stay home if you can.
First of all, I will tell you I HATE going to the ER. When I worked and had friends there, I didn’t mind so much but other than the dentist, the gynecologist or maybe a public pool in the middle of summer with no sunscreen or shade, it’s one of the very worst places in the world. So, if you can stay home, do it! If you can wait and see your doctor in the morning, do it. If there is an urgent care open, go there! It’s probably faster and cheaper.
I really try not to go. About a year ago, Weston hurt his finger. How, you ask? Baseball? Football? Skateboard? No…He fell in a hole. Yep, a hole. I wasn’t too worried. It was just his pinky. No one really cares about the pinky finger, right?! So, I didn’t take him to the doctor. He kept complaining and complaining. Eleven days later, I finally broke down and took him to the urgent care.
They did an x-ray. He had broken his finger and it was somewhat-kind of close-nearby-maybe next to the growth plate. I guess the proximity to the growth plate made this a big deal, even though it was JUST THE PINKY!! Anyway, he wore a finger splint. Saw the orthopedist a few times and all is well! But, since I had waited so long, the urgent care doctor yelled at me. What did Weston do? He wrote a story about it at school. It was titled, “The Very, Very, Broken Finger.” The kids thought that the Dr. yelling at me was the funniest thing ever. My point: I really don’t go to an ER (or even an urgent care) unless it’s really important. But, I was also wrong. Guess I should’ve brought him in earlier. (Although, in my defense he and his finger are totally fine!) Live and learn, right?!
If you need the ER, go!
I will say that if you aren’t sure what to do if you have a sick or injured family member, sometimes it is better to be safe than sorry. If there isn’t a doctors office or urgent care open it may be worth the peace of mind to go to the ER to get your family member checked out.
Do a 180 degree turn from me and you have Laura, who has spent a good portion of her adult life in the ER. If you haven’t read her blog about 5 ways to help an injured friend, you’ll find it here. It’s kind of fascinating to hear about all of her injuries. It is a crazy, ridiculous, unbelievably (totally true) loooooong list. Obviously, she needed the ER and maybe a frequent customer card. (HAHA!)
I have one friend that would read the title of this blog and be confused. She told me that she had never been to the ER. She feels the ER is for emergency’s only (and has been very lucky considering she has three children) and had always been able to use urgent care facilities or her doctor’s office. But, not everyone is like that. Really consider the other options before headed to the ER. Why?
Let me tell you what you’ll probably find in an ER.
People that are drunk, possibly yelling, crying, blood and germs. A lot of these things can be very scary to children. (And even scary for adults!) There are police with people in handcuffs. I’ve seen (and felt the side effects of) the police spraying pepper spray at a prisoner trying to escape their custody while in the ER. In addition to, you may see people rushing in and out of the room of a very sick person and it can be intense. (You may just be a curtain away!) If an ER is really busy, you may find yourself or your sick loved one in a hallway bed. Not the best place to be when you aren’t feeling well or you’re in pain.
Did I mention the wait??!!
Many times (maybe most times), you’ll find a long wait. You’ll feel like a prisoner because you have absolutely no control over when you get to leave. Yes, you can walk out when the wait is too long, but for the most part you will choose to stay. You came for treatment or a test, maybe a prescription, so you stay. And…wait…
Of course, the reason it takes so long is that the ER really is for emergency patients. Because they are truly emergencies, they will be seen and their needs will be taken care of first. Those true emergent patients cannot wait and the doctors and nurses will be dealing with life and death. If you are lucky enough to be there for something less urgent, you will end up waiting. So, for your own sanity and to avoid being around frightening and very sick people, stay home if you can.
2. Leave the rest of the family at home.
I understand there are circumstances where everyone feels that they need to come to the ER with a sick patient. You and your sister are both concerned about an elderly parent. Or, your newborn is sick and you and your husband are extremely worried. It’s great when a patient has a ton of people that care and want to be there for them. However, everyone shouldn’t come to the ER.
If you can help it, just bring whoever is necessary. One or maybe two people to accompany the patient. Preferably people that know what has been going on with the patient or have the patient’s medical history, medication list, etc. Leave other children at home if you can. Rather than bringing the whole family, take turns being with the patient while other family members stay home and are given updates.
For one thing, the rooms are very small. Therefore, it makes it really difficult for staff to navigate around the bed when there are too many family members in the room. And, depending on how sick your family member is, they are often trying to do things quickly with multiple staff members working with the patient at the same time.
Like I mentioned above, it can be scary for little ones. And, the germs!!! Because the ER is filled with people with all kinds of problems from Tuberculosis to lice (Yuck!!) to MRSA. Limit the amount of people in your family that are exposed to these things. (I know my kids touch everything. They are better about it now that they are older, but still. Keep them away if you can!!
You don’t know how many times I would walk in to a patient’s room and see a barefoot child licking the floor. (Okay! That was an exaggeration. They weren’t licking the floor, but they might as well have been.) OMG!!! I’m not sure there is a dirtier more disgusting place on Earth… Imagine the grossest place you can think of. Then multiply it by 26 and you’ll get an ER floor! You’d have to hose your kid off with bleach! (Whew! I got off on a tangent. Sorry! Please DON’T hose anyone off with bleach. DO leave them at home if you can!)
3. If your child has a fever medicate them.
If your child has a fever, give them medicine. Give them Tylenol or Motrin. More times than I can count, a parent would bring a child in with a high fever and when we’d ask if they’d been given fever reducing medication, the parent would say no. They wanted the ER staff to witness how high the fever was. DON’T do this. If you can make the fever better with medication, do it! Any good ER nurse/ doctor will believe you that your child had a fever. It also helps to know just how high it was. So, take their temperature before hand. Reducing their fever will make your child feel so much better, too!
4. Let your children speak for themselves.
Of course this applies to older children. If a nurse or doctor asks a question, let them answer. Often they can describe their symptoms and answer certain personal questions more accurately. If you feel like they are downplaying the severity or forgetting a symptom, by all means share it. But, it’s nice for a healthcare provider to get answers straight from the horses mouth. It teaches kids how to describe their symptoms in the most accurate way.
Weston was hit by a bat while playing catcher in a baseball game. He described the pain as “it felt like my heart was beating in my arm.” Okay, I interpret that as throbbing but you never know what a kid might say in their description that could give an extra clue to a doctor or nurse about what is going on with their illness or injury. So, let them tell it like they see it!
5. Be nice!
Really! Be nice!! Because who are the people that do go into the room and take care of the people with Tuberculosis, lice or MRSA? ER staff! Generally being nice to anyone will get you better service. This is also true in the ER. They will still take care of you if you are rude and impatient, but I promise your whole experience will go much more smoothly if you treat the staff with kindness and respect. A please and thank you go a long way.
It’s a tough job
As an ER nurse I was bitten, kicked, spit at, hit, sworn at (a lot), yelled at and had drinks (and urine) thrown at me. I’ve have my hands in places most people never want to think of. I’ve cleaned up urine, spit, poop, blood, vomit, bloody vomit, bloody poop….The list is long and disgusting. My point is that yes, ER staff get paid to do their job but it can be a pretty tough job. And, that’s just the gross stuff.
I haven’t even mentioned the mental aspects of seeing patients die, both older and pediatric. Having to deal with drug abuse, domestic abuse, and often, just people at their very worst. Dealing with family of patients that die suddenly or holding a 6 month old with a black eye would be tough on anyone. As a result, I can tell you it is a very stressful job! So, please be nice.
Realize that they are busy and most often are doing their best to manage a long list of gross, dirty and often lifesaving tasks for multiple patients. ER staff knows that you are worried and anxious about your loved one and they will do their best to take care of them. But, this is also their job. You may hear them talking at the nurses station. You may even hear them laugh. This doesn’t mean they aren’t working. It doesn’t mean they don’t care about you. Their actions are probably pretty similar to how you act at your job. Often, it’s a way of coping with a job that is often thankless and both mentally and physically tiring.
It’s okay if they don’t seem to be moving as fast as you think they should. While you are super anxious and worried and they appear more calm, almost bored. That’s okay. Because you want a nurse that has been doing this a while. You want staff that has seen a patient with chest pain so many times that they don’t have to get excited because they know just what to do. I promise you that you are (pretty much always) in good hands.
Most importantly, the ER nurses I’ve known and had the pleasure of working with (and doing IV’s, catheter’s, and enema’s with) are the best at what they do. (Okay, life saving stuff, too. Not just the gross stuff!) They work well when they’re busy and things are chaotic. And, they thrive on being able to work without knowing everything about a patient or the situation. If you need help, these are your people. Please be kind! Because you never know what else they are dealing with behind the other curtain.
*This is a blog. It is not a substitute for medical advice. If you are unsure about an illness or injury, go see a healthcare professional.