June 26th, 2013 at 10:00 am
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5 tips for caregivers on emergency room visits

by Dorian Martin

Dad and I were coming back from a doctor’s appointment on Friday afternoon when he lost his balance on the front step of my home. He keeled over and landed flat on his back in the flower bed. Fortunately, my neighbors were home and we were able to get him back on his feet, after asking him if he thought he had broken anything. He sat in a living room chair for a bit talking with my neighbors, but then decided to go to his bedroom to lie down. Other than sitting up twice for very short periods of time, he remained in bed the entire weekend and increasingly had difficulty sitting up.

That situation started getting me worried and I told Dad that if he couldn’t get up on his own on Monday, he needed to go to the hospital to be evaluated. So this morning, I called the emergency medical technicians (EMTs) to take him to the emergency room.

Preparing for the emergency room

This trip marked the ninth time I’ve accompanied one of my parents to the hospital emergency room since 2005 so I consider myself somewhat of an “expert.” Therefore, I’d like to share my tips on what to expect:

1. List of medications: Have a list of all medications that your loved one is taking available to give to the EMTs or the emergency room staff, including what the elder has taken most recently. This can help the staff as they make their assessment.

2. Be there early: Hospital staff is going to come in soon after your loved one’s arrival to begin their assessment. If at all possible, be present so you can help provide information. For instance, my father didn’t want to talk much about the fall’s aftermath and instead wanted to give staff information about a potential issue that was identified during his doctor’s appointment. Luckily, I was there to fill in the blanks.

3. Timing is everything: In my experience, weekends and evenings tend to be busier in the ER than during weekdays. Still, this morning, the emergency room started filling up with patients around 10:30 a.m. That brings me to my next point…

4. Be prepared to wait: The shortest amount of time that I’ve spent with a parent in an emergency room was 3 hours, while the longest was more than 8 hours. (Today’s wait was a relatively short 3.5 hours). Be sure to take something with you to read or work on during that period.

5. Spotty access to technology: Don’t assume that there is going to be a television available in the emergency room area where your loved one is assessed. The first room that Dad was assigned didn’t have one while the second one did. Also, don’t assume that the hospital provides guest access to the Internet.

Hoping all’s well that ends well

For those who are wondering, we had good news about Dad’s back. X-rays showed no breaks or slipped disks so he was discharged with a prescription for a painkiller and sent back home.

Going to the emergency room definitely requires a dose of patience. Be prepared and make good use of the time. Of course emergencies by nature can’t be scheduled, but try to get in before peak “traffic” times. I blogged about this in Beware “weekend effect” when taking elders to hospital. If you do need to make the trip to the ER, we hope all goes well for you and your loved ones.

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