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Keep Yourself Safe in the ER

Posted Oct 6th, 2009 by Trisha Torrey

All it took was a good sneeze!

A long-lasting and messy nosebleed was the result, and set the stage for plenty of observation and lessons learned. An hour after it began, my nose had not stopped bleeding. My husband was out of town, so I dialed 9-1-1 and a speedy ambulance ride later, I soon found myself in the Emergency Room.

Four hours later, the bleeding finally stopped. Nothing serious, it turned out – simply a vein in my nose taking offense at the dryness of the air in my home. But it was a great opportunity to document the experience so I could share some safety tips with you:

·    In a life-or-death emergency, you'll want to be taken to the nearest hospital that can treat your problem. For example, you’ll want to go to the nearest trauma center if you are involved in a bad car accident.  If you are having a stroke, you'll want to be taken to the nearest facility that is equipped to treat stroke patients. Most ambulance services are staffed by EMTs (Emergency Medical Technicians) who know where to take you.  They are trained to identify quickly what is causing your problem, so let them make the decision as to where you'll get the best care.

·    If your emergency is less time-sensitive, meaning, you don't need immediate care, then you may have options for choosing the ER you prefer.

·    If you have an option to choose the time you arrive in the emergency room, avoid arrival during the change of shift in order to limit the amount of delay. The personnel who have already worked almost their entire shift don't want to deal with you because it's almost time for them to go home. The arriving group of workers needs to be briefed on the entire patient population before any of the doctors look in on you. You’ll have to wait for them, plus everyone else who has a more difficult potential diagnosis than you.  Frustrating.

·    Ask someone to accompany you. If you don’t have someone or don’t have time to ask someone, then ask the ER personnel to try to phone someone who might help you – a relative, neighbor or friend. Spending time in the emergency room is disconcerting, there are sights and sounds that are unfamiliar, you are worried about whatever problem took you there to begin with, and it’s tough to pay attention. An advocate by your side may take away that burden.

·    Ask questions constantly, so you know what is happening and what to expect.  Continually ask what will happen next. Doing so will put the ER staff on notice that you are keeping track.  I found that if I didn’t ask, it was a long time before anyone looked in on me.

·    Ask everyone to wash and sanitize their hands before they touch you if they come in from another space, and if there is any chance they have touched another patient or equipment just before they plan to touch you. I noticed the nurses were much better about that than the doctor was, but everyone was willing to cooperate and none seemed surprised by my request. Keep your own hands clean, too. From guard rails to TV remotes, germs are everywhere.

·    Keep your own situation in perspective.  You will hear other patients, many moaning or complaining, and you may hear worried loved ones. You’ll hear people who are upset, people who are in pain, people who are scared, even people who are dying.  The man behind the curtain next to me probably didn’t make it through the night. Realizing that helped me keep my own less-than-life-threatening situation in perspective.

·    Keep your sense of humor, if possible. It makes the experience a bit more palatable and you’ll find the ER personnel will check in on you more frequently.  Good humor is welcome in a place so full of stress and difficulty.  If you’re the one providing the humor, they’ll want to spend more time with you.  Of course, don’t be too much fun.  They may just want to keep you around!

·    Before you leave, ask for copies of any test results, and ask that the results also be sent to your regular doctor. 

·    Make sure you are given written instructions to follow when you leave. Then follow those instructions. Compliance with those instructions will help you heal after the emergency visit, and may keep another emergency from occurring.

·    If possible, visit your regular doctor a day or two after you are discharged to confirm that there is no other follow up required.
A trip to the emergency room is no fun, and can be scary. Using these tips may help improve your chances for a good outcome.

About the author

Trisha Torrey is Every Patient's Advocate. She is a newspaper columnist, radio talk show host, national speaker, and the guide to patient empowerment at

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