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Tips for Surviving a Trip to the Emergency Room

Updated on August 11, 2010

This is not an article about medical anything. I won't tell you how to treat any condition or injury. I'm not even going to go near the subject of who should be in the emergency room and when.

This is about how to make your stay there as "painless" as possible. Admittedly, most folks come upon an emergency room visit unexpectedly. However, there are those of us with chronic health conditions who visit with the emergency room personnel several times a year.

Arriving in an ambulance is no guarantee you'll see a doctor faster than just walking in. It depends entirely on your condition. The only difference is that you spend your time lying on a gurney in a hallway instead of sitting in the emergency room waiting area. I've done both and it's incredibly tedious either way.

The first thing you should understand is that yelling at the emergency room personnel won't help you a lot. Try to keep your cool when filling out what seems to be ridiculous paperwork.


The process is pretty straightforward. Once you go into the emergency room, you'll probably have to fill out a small form and the nurse will ask what is wrong with you. Unless you're an having trouble breathing, experiencing a possible stroke or heart attack, seizure, bleeding, or suffering severe trauma then you will have to wait. After an initial evaluation, you will either be sent back out to the waiting room or taken into an exam room. This is called triage. The worst cases are dealt with first.

At some point and depending on your condition, someone will show up to ask about symptoms, take vital signs, draw some blood, scan you, poke you or x-ray you. If you're not in immediate danger then you're not likely to see a doctor for any real length of time until after the tests come back.

Test results in hand, the doctor will come in and speak to you about symptoms and your previous history. At that point, he or she may or may not admit you. If they do admit you, then there's more waiting for a hospital room/bed to be assigned to you.

Dress for Success

You'll save yourself a tremendous amount of aggravation by taking a list of all your medications with dosages included with you. I keep it on computer and can print that list in the time it takes the ambulance to get to my house. Otherwise, scoop them all into a bag and keep that bag on your person at all times. The emergency room draws a broad section of society. Sad to say, they cannot all be trusted.

If you have the choice, dress very comfortably. You might be sitting around for some time. Additionally, clothing will have to be moved or removed for any number of tests. Emergency rooms vary greatly in temperature and your internal body temperature is likely to vary. Layers are always a good choice. Don't forget the possibility of bodily fluids. All sorts of interesting stains are possible. You're not there because you feel good.

Following on that point, leave your purse and most of your money at home. If you've been to the emergency room before then you know they want your insurance information and medical history. I'm sure some emergency rooms have different requirements. Take a copy of your driver's license rather than the real thing. Chances are, they will want to see the "real" insurance cards.

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I always carry a can of V-8 with me. Now, this is a bit dicey. If you might be a candidate for some sort of surgery or procedure then they will not let you eat or possibly drink until a preliminary diagnosis has been made. So, ask before you put anything in your mouth. I carry the food with me because once they decide to admit me, it could be hours before I see a room. Unfortunately, hospital emergency rooms don't generally carry much in the way of food. And I usually don't feel well enough to eat the junk in the vending machines.

Microwaved V-8 is a lovely little soup that is easy on the stomach and can help you make it over the hump until you can get some real food. Oddly enough, once you're in the emergency room doctors generally won't let you out again unless you are discharged. A quick trip to the hospital cafeteria is usually out of the question. I have had pizza delivered to the outside door. I had a friend with me who waited for it and brought it back to me.

The emergency room is boring. Plain and simple. Try to take a book that you can lose. Something simple that can hold your attention without really needing too much of it. Electronic devices may or may not be allowed. They can also go missing easily. If you feel too lousy to keep track of it then leave it at home.

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Go prepared to wait. Even if they take you back to see a doctor very quickly, there is absolutely no guarantee that you won't still be in an exam room six hours later. Depending on how crowded the hospital is, it can take as long as overnight to get a room.

If it looks like you're going to be a regular, then you might want to assemble a group of people who are willing to wait with you at the hospital. Change them out at reasonable intervals. Don't include anyone who has a problem sitting still. They will just make you nuts.

Smokers are going to be an issue as well. At my local hospital, smokers have to drive off the grounds to have a cigarette. It can be a real problem to find a new parking place late at night in the freezing cold.

Finally, remember that emergency rooms are more crowded now than they ever have been. If you have the type of injury or illness that a 24-hour urgent care facility can handle then you might save yourself some time by going there first.

Blank forms for keeping track of your medical history, medications, and list of your doctors can be downloaded at the website listed below.


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      Martha (Herscher) Franco 8 years ago

      Great article! I love the idea of bringing a V-8 with you--it's good stuff and will tide you over until you can get some "real" food.