Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Visiting an ER - do you make it harder on yourself?

It's not easy for millions of people across North America who don't have family doctors. They don't have someone to turn to when they have the aches and pains that should be checked but aren't emergencies. Unfortunately, their only choice is then to visit an emergency room when things get really tough.

But, after many years as a nurse and many years as someone who has needed to use the emergency room for my children and for me, I've seen many, many instances of people abusing the system - going to an emergency for something that just isn't remotely close to being an emergency; perhaps not even needing a doctor.

In the early 90s, I worked for a brief while in a small rural hospital. I was the nursing supervisor and the only nurse in the emergency room. Luckily for me, during my short stay, there wasn't anything life threatening, but I did get visitors. One, I will never forget. It was a man, likely in his 30s or 40s, who came in around 3 a.m. When I asked what the problem was, he told me that he was there because he couldn't sleep.

Not being sure I heard correctly, I probed to be sure that was what he meant. Finally, I asked him incredulously something along the lines of, "let me get this straight. You can't sleep. Because you can't sleep, you want me to wake up our doctor??" His response, I still remember, was: "Well, I have a cold too."

I don't recall if he went home or waited until a more decent hour, but I know I didn't wake the doctor for him. Sadly though, he wasn't alone in that type of doctor's visit. I have spent many hours in the emergency room of our Children's hospital and there were often children there who obviously didn't need to be there. If you eavesdropped, you would even hear the parents saying that among themselves. And these were the parents who were furious because they had to wait hours to be seen.

I never liked waiting a few hours - something that didn't happen often - but I figured if I had to wait that long, then my child's problem wasn't life threatening. Because, when my children did have serious issues, we didn't have to wait long at all.

So, do you make ER waits harder for yourself by going when you really shouldn't?

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