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Emergency Room Survival

By Dave Balch

ER

In the 10 years that my wife and I have been dealing with her cancer, I have seen more than my share of emergency rooms. They are often crowded, noisy, and we always have to wait, wait, wait. It hasn’t been unusual to wait two or three hours until a doctor made an appearance, even at 3:00 in the morning! I don’t mean for this to sound like a criticism; I understand that they have a very tough job to do. This is just the way it often is.

That’s why I was so apprehensive a couple of days ago when I had severe pain in my abdomen in the middle of the night during a trip to Rhode Island, which is about as far as you can get from our home in California and still be in the U.S.

At first I was just going to tough it out, but after about 2 hours the pain started to move toward my leg. I soon found myself in a taxi on my way to the nearest ER: Kent Memorial Hospital in Warwick, Rhode Island.

I walked up to the reception window; the woman at the desk saw me and said, “Come right on in” and opened the door.” In five minutes I was registered and in a wheelchair, and in another five I was in a room in a bed, IV attached. It couldn’t have been more than five minutes after that that a doctor walked in, asked me some questions, did an exam, and ordered morphine, which arrived shortly thereafter. She told me that it was most likely either kidney stones or appendicitis.

Someone came in for insurance information, they did an EKG, and then wheeled me off for a CAT-scan. It was an amazing display of coordination and efficiency. Everyone was friendly, concerned, and aware of what everyone else was doing.

About 15 minutes after the scan I was informed that my problem was kidney stones and that the worst was over. They gave me an anti-inflammatory drug, which stopped my pain completely in a few minutes.

This experience was extraordinary, and it serves to call attention to ER visits in general. If you’re dealing with cancer you’ll be dealing with an emergency room at one point or another, so it’s best to be prepared. Here are some things to consider:

1.  Be prepared to wait, even in a small hospital in the middle of the night.  Bring something to keep you occupied such as a magazine or book to read (or listen to), your iPod, iPad, e-reader, etc.

2.  One thing to remember about an emergency room is that they take patients in order of urgency, not necessarily in the order that they arrive. If someone arrives after you do but is called before you are the ER isn’t being unfair, it just means that their condition is more urgent than yours.

3.  Be sure to tell them all pertinent details about why you are there and the patient’s history; there may be a detail that elevates the urgency and gets you in to see a doctor sooner.

4.  Just because it seems quiet in the waiting room doesn’t mean that everyone is on break or playing video games. They could be treating a serious case such as an accident victim or even an urgent situation with an inpatient from the hospital.

5.  Your ER experience will have a lot to do with luck and how busy they are and why. Several years ago there was a terrible fire in a night club in Rhode Island. Hundreds were injured and many of them were taken to the same ER where I was treated. I’ll take a wild guess and say that my experience would have probably been much different had I been unlucky enough to arrive just after the fire.

6. Stay calm and treat the staff kindly. Give them the benefit of the doubt since they have a tough job to do and sometimes tough choices to make. They are doing the best that they can.

    Of course, you can always go to Kent Memorial Hospital in Warwick, Rhode Island…

    Photo: iStockphoto

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