One Nurse’s Need-to-Knows for the Emergency Room

I hope you never need these tips, but let’s face it, most parents make at least one trip to the Emergency Room during their child rearing years. In case (SURPRISE!) that scary day does come, here are some tips from a pediatric emergency room nurse (as told here by her dad). According to the pro, this advice can save you tons of time, stress and frustration, which is pretty huge in any emergency situation.

Note: Please discuss all of these tips with your own pediatrician first. Every child’s medical needs are different.

Before the Emergency

  • What if you end up doing ambulance duty? Would you know where to go? Become familiar with the ERs close to your home and know which one (or ones) you would go to in an emergency. Make sure you know how to drop off and park at the hospital of choice. That information will make you less anxious if and when you are making a real visit.
  • Who cares where your insurance card may be or what your pediatrician’s address is when your kid is in pain? Not you! That’s why it’s smart to maintain a folder with your child’s important health and insurance information. Keep the folder somewhere easy to grab and go on your way to the ER. Then, once you’re there and someone starts asking for your child’s information for the 10th time in a row, you can just say, “here, take this!” Pro tip: always let your babysitter know where this folder is, in case there’s an emergency while you’re away.

Should I Go?

  • That’s for you or your pediatrician to decide. Your local ER cannot give medical advice over the phone. If you need advice, call your doctor. They can help assess the situation and give the yay or nay. If you do take your child to the ER, they can call ahead to alert the ER team and explain your child’s medical situation.
  • Watching a high fever? Don’t be afraid to treat it with a fever reducer (if recommended by your doctor). Many parents worry that if they medicate a fever, the ER staff won’t believe what is happening with the child’s temperature. Don’t worry about that. Comforting your child comes first (as do doctor’s orders).
  • If your child is in a life-threatening situation, CALL AN AMBULANCE. Do not convince yourself that you can get your child to the hospital faster if you just put them in the car yourself. This is very important!

Waiting Room Etiquette

  • If you don’t have to, don’t bring your entire family – you don’t know how long of a wait time you will experience.
  • Stay put. Don’t leave your child alone in the waiting room. Don’t wander off to make phone calls or get food. Your child (and the ER staff) needs you at all times.
  • It’s tempting, but don’t ask about the wait time. The ER team has no idea what might be coming through the door in the next ten minutes – and your wait time could be greatly impacted. Remember: be thankful if your child is not the first one admitted from the waiting room. The kid that goes first often faces the most serious situation.

Exam Room Need-to-Knows

  • If the ER staff doesn’t get your child food or drinks, it’s probably for good reason. Your child’s food and liquid intake may be restricted in case a procedure or surgery is ordered.
  • If your child is asked to put on a gown, cooperate. It helps the ER staff to help your child.
  • Let the nursing staff know if you have special ways of doing things at home (like a particular way of giving medicine or a special way of comforting) that your child prefers.
  • Understand that test results can take time and that the nursing team will not know everything right away.
  • Know that, if your child is experiencing pain, that it may not be reasonable or possible to ask their pain be lowered to “0” on a scale of “0 to 10.”
  • If you’re tempted to look up symptoms, diagnoses and treatments on something like WebMD while you wait, web surfer beware. Trust your nurses and doctors. Always ask questions, but understand that they know your child’s specific situation best and rest assured, they likely have many years of training and experience under their belt.
  • Focus on keeping your child calm, confident, safe and happy. That’s your most important role. And if you don’t know what to do to make that happen, ask your nurse for advice. She’s seen the same scenario hundreds of times before and has some great hints to help you be the hero you need to be.

When It’s Time to Go Home

  • If you rode in the ambulance to the hospital, it’s a one-way ticket. Make sure you make arrangements for getting home. An ambulance would be a very expensive “cab” ride back!
  • Before you leave, make sure you fully understand all of your discharge information – and have written instructions that are clear to you. Also make sure there’s a phone number to call 24/7 if you have questions or concerns.
  • Before you leave, make sure it’s clear to you what signs you should watch for in your child’s health that would require a call or another visit to the ER.
  • Make sure you follow up with your pediatrician after the ER visit to figure out a plan for continued care and follow-up treatment.

Here’s hoping you never need this advice. But if you do, these tips could take just a little bit of the panicky “EEEEEEEEEEEE!” out of ER.

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