In Case of Emergency


By Neil Offen

Have you ever had to go to the emergency room, the ER? Don’t worry if you haven’t; you will. And you will most likely wind up there in the middle of the night, on a major holiday weekend, when all local medical personnel are attending the annual pickleball injury conference in Hawaii.

So, you should be prepared for what may be a difficult visit.  Here are some suggestions to help get you through.

Grasp the concept of triage. Triage, from the French for “you will be waiting for ages,” is the preliminary assessment of patients to determine the urgency of their need for treatment. That means, although your ingrown toe nail really hurts, you will be seen only after three heart attacks, two gunshot wounds, an epileptic seizure, the kid who swallowed the Silly Putty and probably the guy with two ingrown toe nails.

Get your medical story straight. In the ER, you will talk to many different medical personnel. And you will have to repeat the story of who you are and what brings you to the emergency room for all of them, even if it appears fairly obvious, at least to you, that your leg has fallen off.

Try to understand the lingo. When emergency room personnel tell you your test results will be back soon, make sure you understand that the medical term “soon,” which when translated into English, really means “not soon.” Frequently it means “not for a very, very long time.”

In fact, the whole idea of time is different in the emergency room. New doctors, nurses and technicians will come and go while you are still there, and then they will come back again after having gone home for the holidays, headed off to Cancun and renewed their driver’s licenses.

Don’t still be wearing your pajamas when you have to go to the emergency room. For one thing, what are you doing wearing pajamas at two in the afternoon while taking a walk around the neighborhood? Once at the emergency room, the likelihood is that if you arrive in your pajamas, you will stay in your pajamas. And you will have to do a lot of explaining why a person your age still has Lady and the Tramp pajamas.

Bring a board game with you. You need something to kill the time and take your mind off the blood that’s been trickling down your leg. Consider Scrabble, and try to get “triage” on a triple-word space. 

Respond honestly to the questions you are asked. While you are lying on a gurney with tubes coming out of your arm, a bandage wrapped around your elbow and a knife sticking out of your back, do not respond, “Fine, thanks, how are you?” when medical personnel introduce themselves by saying, “How are you?”

Don’t believe it’s all some sort of terrible mistake. Yes, you work out regularly, do yoga twice a week, haven’t smoked since college and can regularly complete The New York Times crossword—in pen. But despite all that you’re still in the ER because you haven’t stopped sneezing since two weeks ago Thursday.

Keep things in perspective. Do not be concerned that most of the medical practitioners you are seeing at the ER are the same age as your T-shirts. Be nice to them. They probably have gone to medical or nursing school, and, even if they can’t help you with whatever problem has brought you to the ER, they might have grandparents you know.

Carrboro resident Neil Offen has written humor pieces for a number of different publications, in a number of different countries. His column appears twice monthly in The Local Reporter.

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