Surviving the Emergency Room

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Defining what doctors consider an “Emergency” is very important in an era when patients use Emergency Rooms like an all night family practice office. In medical language an “emergency” consists of a medical problem that is life-threatening within the next 24 hours, or a condition that left untreated, will lead to lasting damage. These situations include the following: conditions that require immediate surgery, heart defibrillation, stitches to close a wound, or pain medication; suicidal patients; traumatic injuries due to auto-accident, falls or a gunshot, knife wound or blunt trauma; any type of head injury, intra-abdominal bleeding, appendicitis, bowel obstruction, slipped vertebrae, back injury or dislocated limb. This is not an exhaustive list of emergencies that require a trip to the emergency room, but these are examples of what constitutes an emergency to doctors.

Unfortunately, because of a recent federal law that requires Emergency Rooms to see and treat ANY PROBLEM that comes into the ER, even if it is not appropriate for this medical setting, ER doctors have become a bit less vigilant in assessing and quickly treating true emergencies. Human nature still applies to us doctors. If people cry wolf repetitively, day in and day out, all humans will be less motivated to rise quickly to the real emergency!

ER doctors have my sympathy because their job requires a great deal of intelligence along with rapid fire problem-solving, spurred by super-human energy, with the ability to quickly take correct action. These traits in a physician are rare, and the demands of their practice wear on the lives of these women and men. They are the quickest minds in the universe of physicians, when they are excellent at their job, but they live in the shadow of making a misdiagnosis when the stakes are high.

It is true that ER doctors hold your very life in their hands. If they are overwhelmed with too many shifts, or have had their day cluttered with non-emergencies ( ear-aches, stomach aches, vaginal itching etc.) that should be seen in a normal doctor’s office, then they may not be in the proper state of mind to deal with a life threatening emergency. I will not judge them, quite the contrary, I sympathize with their difficult job and the courage they display every day.

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