If you have to wonder, Is this severe enough to go to the ER?, then the answer is a resounding NO.  “Emergency” means that without immediate help, the person will die (soon. due to this problem).*

I’ve always thought that it’s much better to wait and see my PCP than go to the ER, but for some reason, when my four foot tall son slipped and fell from a height of five feet, I lost sight of what emergency means.  No, he didn’t look like he was dying, but the arm he’d landed on was all puffy and scraped, and I didn’t know if it was an innocent little bump, or if the bone was sticking out but hadn’t erupted through the skin.  When I tried to examine him, he yelped with even more pain.

Not dying; not an emergency.  But I took him to the hospital anyhow.

The last time I was in that emergency room, my three-year old had been hit in the head with a baseball bat.  That child is now eleven, so it’s been a while.  Back then, we were shown immediately to a room; paperwork happened later.  This time they checked us in right away then sent us to the waiting room.  Nope, not an emergency.

I’ve read much about extensive wait-times due to overflowing waiting rooms, but this place wasn’t crowded.  We checked in and were told that it wouldn’t be long; we were next.  “Not long” is relative, I guess.  If things can take four hours or more, anything under an hour might seem short to the staff.  If you’re a little kid in pain, forty-five minutes is a long time.

Last time we had a room.  This time we were eventually taken to a large area with seven beds separated by curtains.  HIPAA?  No privacy at all.

After a bit, a couple arrived with their drunken teenage daughter and were put in the bed next to us.  I didn’t quite understand why the parents deemed her drunkenness an emergency, because the girl was both walking and talking with reasonable clarity.  Although her speech didn’t seem excessively slurred, that’s not to say that the language was reasonable or clean.  From the sounds of things, she learned her vocabulary from her parents.

I’d taken my son for medical attention for a broken arm; I hadn’t thought he’d be getting vocabulary lessons in gutter-talk.  The three people on the other side of our curtain were making more noise and causing more disruption than the entire rest of the room.  After one particularly offensive outburst I said, “Watch your language!  I have a little kid over here.”  The mother and daughter were indignant, but the dad realized what they’d sounded like and all three of them quit talking.  Made me wish I’d spoken up sooner.

Despite the pain he was in, my son thought it was great to have a bed on wheels.  The ride to get x-rays made it seem almost fun to be there.

When the time finally came to immobilize my son’s arm, a whole slew of people crowded into our little corner.  They must have had a bunch of new staff, because nobody knew what they were doing; one tech used this as the opportunity to teach a bunch of others how to cast an arm.  I think know how to do it now.

From what I can decipher of my insurance policy, most of the costs will be covered, but I’ll have to pay about $300 for that little adventure.  $300 to be told to follow up with our PCP and have new x-rays taken in a week.  I really need to print a reminder somewhere that I can refer to it:

If the person isn’t trying to die, it’s not an emergency.

Everyone will eventually die.


7 thoughts on “ER

  1. Hmmm. This DID seem like an emergency to me, Socks. Sounds like your son did, indeed, break his arm and treatment for that was called for, sooner rather than later, if for no other reason that he’d be in pain for a much longer time if you waited for a regular appointment. I haven’t spent a huge amount of time over the years in ERs. I have done so enough times that waiting with the patient behind curtains, with other patients on both sides, and not all of them what anyone could consider pleasant, quiet or polite, seems the norm to me rather than the exception. Good for you for speaking up when the language got so ugly. Good for Dad to get his wife and daughter to dry up.

    I hope your son’s arm is feeling better, Socks. Best to you…

  2. I’m not sure I agree – in my book, a possibly broken arm is a legitimate reason to go to the ER. After all, your PCP wouldn’t be able to set and cast it, but would send you to the hospital for these procedures and most likely to the emergency room. Additionally, the consequences of waiting could complicate matters.

    Still. Taking your daughter to the ER because she’s a bit drunk? That appears to be sorta wiggy…

  3. Our family physician has a procedure room where he does all sorts of things, including casts. He’s never sent us to the hospital for broken bones. Either he takes care of them in his office, or he refers us to an orthopedist (who treats the breaks in the office) if it looks to be complicated.

    My son is doing much much better. After a couple days he wore a bag over his arm to use the slip-n-slide at a friend’s party. Next he decided that it would be okay to wear a bag over the arm (clear up to his shoulder) in the swimming pool. It worked so well that the next day he decided to submerge the flimsy plastic bag and try to swim. Based on his new x-rays, our doctor decided the kid could be free, but if the arm starts bugging him we have to return. He’s a tough little kid. I’m glad he heals quickly 🙂

  4. Don’t be too hard on yourself. You had an ouchy kid with a new lump in his arm that needed an x-ray (at least). That’s quite a bit of pressure to remember that maybe your PCP can take care of it. Who knows? He might have sent to the hospital anyway if he did not have the time to get you in within 2 or 3 hours.

    I would not have been upset with you turning up in my ER.

    So glad your son is doing better, and even without immobilization. I hope this is not a harbinger of future klutz-ness!

    Please to visit my blog for an entry your post triggered, on the fine art of triage.

    • Thank you. That helps. 🙂
      Trying to recall… this child hasn’t been seriously injured before. I’m hoping that this was a fluke, not a new trend.

      I like the triage flowchart you posted, and the explanation. Good information to know.

  5. I hope your son feels better soon! In my opinion though, he needed to go to the ER or at least you weren’t abusing the ER like some people do. Do you think he could have waited to go to the doctor? It sounds like that might not have been a great idea, right? But the ER is certainly not a pleasant place to be…I remember when my son had asthma and we were in there quite a bit and I hated it!

  6. I agree with the posts that your son needed to be seen immediately and a potentially broken arm certainly isn’t abuse of the ER (even if it is abuse of the check book). If the person isn’t trying to die on you, one intermediate step between the incident and the ER to consider would be to call your PCP and talk to them. Tell them what happened. They will either work you in or instruct you to go to the ER, but at least you’ll know what your options are. Good luck with everything. It seems like you and your family had your share of “ooopsies” lately.

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