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

WE DON’T BELIEVE YOU 21. “Never, ever lie to your ER nurse. Their BS detectors are excellent, and you lose all credibility when you lie.” —Allen Roberts, MD

22. “Some of us are pretty good at spotting people who come in to score pain medication—especially if you’re specific about the drug you want or you don’t look like you’re in that much pain but you drove an hour from your home to get there.” —Denise King, RN

23. “We hear all kinds of weird stuff. I had a woman who came in at 3 a.m. and said she’d passed out while she was asleep.” —Emergency physician, suburban Northeast

WE PLAY FAVORITES 24. “Get rid of your entitlement mentality. It’s bad in your general life but really bad in the ER. We’ll treat you, but we might not be nice.” —Allen Roberts, MD

25. “Your complaints about your prior doctor will not endear you to us. The more you say, the less we want to deal with you.” —Allen Roberts, MD

26. “If you come in with a bizarre or disgusting symptom, we’re going to talk about you. We won’t talk about you to people outside the ER, but doctors and nurses need to vent, just like everyone else.” —Emergency physician, suburban Northeast

WE CAN ONLY DO SO MUCH 27. “If you come into the ER with a virus, don’t get mad if we can’t tell you exactly what it is. If we’ve ruled out any serious problems, you’re going to have to follow up with your primary care doctor.” —Jeri Babb, RN

28. “We really don’t have anything to offer the person who comes to the ER with cold symptoms that have lasted a day or two. It’s a waste of everyone’s time.” —Emergency physician, suburban Northeast

29. “It’s common to see families who have overmedicated their kids with asthma medication. You can’t just give your children two or three times as much as they’ve been prescribed.” —Joan Shook, MD

30. “Because so many hospitals are overwhelmed, we may not be able to unload the ambulance as soon as we get there. We’ll stay with you until we can hand you off to the nurses. We do the best we can with a bad situation.” —Connie Meyer, RN, paramedic

31. “No, I don’t know what your insurance covers.” —Allen Roberts, MD

SPEAK UP, PLEASE 32. “If your doctor sends you to the ER so you can be admitted to the hospital, ask him to send the orders to the hospital instead. It’s more paperwork for him but could be quicker for you. And it doesn’t jam up the ER with nonemergency patients.” —Denise King, RN

33. “Some patients withhold information they’ve already received from their primary care physician just to see if we come up with the same diagnosis or treatment. Don’t. All you’re doing is slowing us down.” —Joan Shook, MD

SAY THANK YOU 34. “Some people have no clue how close they came to dying before being saved by emergency interventions. I’ve seen serious stroke, heart attack, and trauma patients lead normal lives after events that should have killed them. If only they knew.” —Ramon Johnson, MD, emergency physician, Mission Viejo, California

35. “ER staffs are pretty good at zebra hunting—recognizing an unusual diagnosis—because we’re looking at your symptoms with fresh eyes. We’ve diagnosed cancer and brain tumors in the ER.” —Joan Somes, RN

ER VITALS • Average cost of an ER visit: $707 • Number of visits to U.S. emergency rooms in 2007: 117 million • Increase in the number of ER visits from 1996 to 2006: 32% • Average time spent in the ER: 2 hours, 40 minutes • Number of ambulances per year that are diverted to a different hospital due to lack of staff and space: 500,000

IN CASE OF EMERGENCY • Bring someone with you, or have someone meet you there. • Check the heart attack and pneumonia success rates of the ERs near you at hospitalcompare.hhs.gov. • Make a list and carry with you at all times: your doctors’ names and phone numbers, medications you take, food and drug allergies, a short medical history, phone number of a relative or friend to call in an emergency (find a form online at medIDs.com). • Enter your emergency contact into your cell phone too. • Make sure your house number is clearly visible from the street. The faster EMTs can find you, the faster they can help you. —Becky Batcha

14 REASONS TO GET TO THE ER • Loss of consciousness • Chest or severe abdominal pain• Sudden weakness or numbness in face, arm, or leg • Sudden changes in vision • Difficulty speaking • Severe shortness of breath • Bleeding that doesn’t stop after ten minutes of direct pressure • Any sudden, severe pain • Major injury, such as a head trauma • Unexplained confusion or disorientation • Severe or persistent vomiting or diarrhea • Coughing or vomiting blood • A severe or worsening reaction to an insect bite, food, or medication • Suicidal feelings

HELP YOURSELF: LEARN FIRST AID “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. To keep handy: the American College of Emergency Physicians’ newly updated First Aid Manual ($14.95; acep.org).

Plus: 15 Secrets the ER Staff Won’t Tell You and An Extra 10 Secrets the ER Staff Won’t Tell You

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