35 More Secrets the ER Staff Won’t Tell You

“Something as simple as knowing how to apply pressure to stop or slow bleeding can save a life,” says Marni Bonnin, MD, an ER doctor in Birmingham, Alabama.

By Ginny Graves from Reader's Digest | March 2010

Plus: 15 Secrets the ER Staff Won’t Tell You

THE 411 ON 911 1. “Denial kills people. Yes, you could be having a heart attack or a stroke, even if you’re only 39 or in good shape or a vegetarian.” —Dennis Rowe, paramedic, Knoxville, Tennessee

2. “Don’t call us for a broken finger. If there’s no real emergency, you’ve just clogged up the system.” —Arthur Hsieh, paramedic, San Francisco

3. “Your emergency isn’t necessarily our emergency. In my region, we send an ambulance for all calls, but we don’t use the sirens unless it’s Code 1, which means someone’s bleeding or having chest pain or shortness of breath—basically things you could die from in the next five minutes.” —Connie Meyer, RN, paramedic, Olathe, Kansas

4. “Don’t hang up after you tell us what’s wrong. The operator may be trained to give you instructions in CPR and other medical procedures that could be lifesaving.” —Dennis Rowe, paramedic

emergency room secrets(HARMON) JERRY AVENAIM/CORBIS OUTLINE
AN AMBULANCE ISN’T A FANCY TAXI 5. “In a true emergency, we’re not going to drive 30 miles to the hospital that takes your insurance when there’s a good one two miles away. But if there are many ERs near you, know which one you prefer because we might ask. Find out where your doctor practices, where the nearest trauma center is, and which hospital has the best cardiac center.” —Connie Meyer, RN, paramedic

6. “In most cases, we can’t transport someone who doesn’t want to go. Uncle Eddie may be as sick as a dog, but if he says he doesn’t want to get in an ambulance, we need to respect his wishes.” —Arthur Hsieh, paramedic

7. “If the patient is stable, and 97 percent are, there’s no reason to drive 60 miles an hour on city streets. Have you ever tried to put an IV into someone’s arm in the back of a speeding ambulance?” —Don Lundy, paramedic

YES, WE KNOW YOU’RE WAITING … AND WAITING 8. “We hate it too! But don’t be angry at us. If you’re waiting, there’s one reason: We’re out of beds.” —Jeri Babb, RN, Des Moines, Iowa

9. “The busiest time starts around 6 p.m.; Mondays are the worst. We’re slowest from 3 a.m. to 9 a.m. If you have a choice, come early in the morning.” —Denise King, RN, Riverside, California

10. “People who are vomiting their guts out get a room more quickly. The admitting clerks don’t like vomit in the waiting area.” —Joan Somes, RN, St. Paul, Minnesota

11. “We like the rapid turnover, so we don’t want you stuck in the ER while you’re waiting to be admitted. If we wanted to care for the same patient for hours at a time, we would work on an in-patient ward.” —Denise King, RN

12. “Never tell an ER nurse, ‘All I have is this cut on my finger. Why can’t someone just look at it?’ That just shows you have no idea how the ER actually works.” —Dana Hawkins, RN, Tulsa, Oklahoma

13. “Don’t blame ER overcrowding on the uninsured. They account for 17 percent of visits. The underlying problem is hospital overcrowding in general.” —Leora Horwitz, MD, assistant professor, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut

WE NEED YOU TO COOPERATE 14. “We don’t have time to read the background on every patient. So if you’re having stomach pain, and you’ve had your appendix or gallbladder removed, tell us so we don’t go on a wild-goose chase.” —Dana Hawkins, RN

15. “Be honest about whatever happened. Don’t be a hypochondriac, and don’t answer yes to every question. It will only screw up your care.” —Emergency medical technician, Middlebury, Vermont

16. “I once had a patient say he didn’t take any medications. Later he mentioned he was diabetic. I looked at him and asked, ‘Do you take insulin?’ He said yes. Well, that’s medicine.” —Allen Roberts, MD

17. “If you haven’t had your child immunized, admit it. That’s important information for us to have.” —Marianne Gausche-Hill, MD, emergency physician, Torrance, California

18. “Some ERs don’t allow more than one visitor per patient for a reason: You get in our way. Nominate someone to be in the ER and have that person relay information to everyone else in the waiting room.” —Donna Mason, RN, ER consultant, Nashville, Tennessee

19. “Tell us about any herbal treatments you’re taking. I treated a young man who had put aseptil rojo on some abrasions. It turned his urine red—but we didn’t find the cause until after we’d done a lengthy workup.” —Marianne Gausche-Hill, MD

20. “It’s not uncommon that I get a patient who refuses to have the tests I recommend. I had a volatile conversation with a family who didn’t believe in medicine. What did you expect in the ER?” —Joan Shook, MD, emergency physician, Houston, Texas