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6 Things ER Doctors Always Tell Their Friends

Like how to get in and out of the waiting room faster.


By Lisa Mulcahy, Redbook

Accidents happen, but knowing how to handle them in the aftermath shouldn't be underestimated. The advice from these experts can make a trip to the emergency room just a little less stressful — and may keep you from needing to go at all.


1

How to speed things up.

"Friends always want tricks for making a trip to the hospital faster. The truth is, unless you arrive between 3 a.m. and 9 a.m. — or are facing a truly life-threatening emergency — you're probably going to have to wait. So I suggest people use that time to prep an answer to the doctor's first question: 'What brings you in today?'

Get your story down to about three sentences that cover the specifics of your current symptoms. Details like 'I had high blood pressure years ago' aren't helpful and can send us down the wrong path. Instead, talk about what you've been feeling and when:

'I've been getting winded over the last couple of weeks, and now my chest has started to hurt. The symptoms get worse when I climb the stairs to my condo. It usually stops after I've been sitting for minutes or so.' I'd know right away that something was wrong with your heart and we needed to rule out a heart attack."

—Andra Blomkalns, M.D., vice chair of academic a airs in the department of emergency medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas



2

Be like us about safety.

"I was biking downhill in the rain when I hit a manhole cover and crashed, nearly splitting my helmet in half. As an ER doctor, I knew how much worse it could have been had that helmet not been there. Many of the accidents we treat are avoidable, or at least survivable, with preventive measures.

One of my worst days came when three children lost their mom in a car accident — they were all belted in properly, but she wasn't. So I always tell friends to think like an ER doctor: Make a habit of identifying and working to avoid the worst-case scenario.

You might think, The kids keep wandering into the kitchen, and I need to cook — what can I do to keep them safe? Then turn your pots around on the stove so the handles are out of their reach, for example. Do it enough, and safety will become automatic.”

—Travis Stork, M.D., host of TV's The Doctors



3

We've seen it all before.

"I saw a woman in the ER who had a tampon lodged deep inside her. She had forgotten to take it out, and it was stuck there for a good two weeks. By then things had gotten aromatic, which was embarrassing for her.

Another time, a friend sheepishly messaged me because he had something stuck in his rectum. I told them that there was absolutely no need to be embarrassed. Trust me, somebody has already done the same thing that's landed you in our care. We're not going to judge you or laugh at you, so don't let guilt or shame keep you from getting help.

The woman was lucky she didn't end up with toxic shock syndrome, and I was able to remove her tampon fairly easily, but my friend needed surgery. It's better to be open and honest with a doctor before things take a turn for the worse.”

—Angela Mattke, M.D., M.P.H., spokesperson for the American College of Emergency Physicians and traveling physician for US Acute Care Solutions in Canton, Ohio



4

Don't let the doctor walk away.

"Here's something that happens a lot: You have tests done, and then the doctor pops into your room and says, 'Everything is normal. I'm sending you home — just read your discharge instructions.'

I know doctors are busy, but I tell friends not to leave without asking questions. Make them open-ended to slow him down: 'What does "normal" mean?' The doctor might say, 'You had abdominal pain, so we checked your stomach and gallbladder. You have gastritis, which can be treated at home.'

Or he may tell you he has only a presumptive diagnosis — that means you'll need further testing. In that case, a good question would be 'What's next?' You want to know who you need to see and how soon. And don't be afraid to ask a doctor to explain something in terms you can understand!"

—David Farcy, M.D., chairman of the department of emergency medicine at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach, Florida



5

Pain has a purpose.

"Emergency doctors want you to be as comfortable as possible — we're happy to get you a blanket or some water — but you should know that we may not give you pain meds right away. Pain won't kill you; conditions that cause pain can.

I've seen a lot of headaches in my career, some very benign and others life-threatening. When I'm trying to separate a sinus headache from a brain bleed, I need the patient to be able to describe the pain.

Pain is also protective — if it hurts to put pressure on an area, that's your body's way of preventing further damage and a clue that can lead us to a diagnosis. If you want to take an over-the-counter pain reliever before you come to the hospital, that's okay, but otherwise, be patient while we work through your symptoms."

—Dr. Blomkalns



6

Use your ladder, please.

"My stepfather once broke his hip while changing a lightbulb — he was standing on a chair when he fell. ER docs see that kind of thing a lot, so I tell friends to keep a sturdy ladder in the house and use it for any task that involves climbing, no matter how small.

Have someone spot you too. And while this wasn't the case for my stepdad, please don't attempt any home repairs after a glass of wine or two — drinking alcohol and doing almost anything else increases your chances of meeting an emergency physician."

—Dr. Mattke
body,health-fitness

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