Emergency Room Lessons: Mom to Mom

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when to go the the emergency room

Heavy emotions tag along uninvited: fear, failure, panic, sadness, exhaustion. The whole sequence of events leading up to your arrival is a blur and you are left gasping. As a mother, one of the most terrifying places you can end up is in the emergency room with one of your children.

I’ve taken this journey eight times already and my oldest is only five (is this a record?!) The emergency may be slight or extreme, but it is always a hard experience to pass through. Today, I want to share a few lessons learned, mom to mom, in case you ever find yourself buckling up a toddler with a poopy diaper next to a baby who is struggling to breath to head to the emergency room (true story).

I know what you are thinking: “She is that mom.” The one who rushes her child to the pediatrician every time they trip or cough. But I assure you, I’m not.

We try natural remedies first at our house. And I worked at Parkland Hospital for almost five years and saw all kinds of horrendous afflictions. I do not freak out easily; all of these were real emergencies. In case you’re curious, here’s what we went in for: a bone infection, RSV/bronchiolitis (twice), flu with super high fever that wouldn’t come down, E. coli infection, croup attack with difficulty breathing (twice), and a staph infection that started to go systemic.

As you are now pondering the possibility of having to take your own child to the emergency room one day (sorry!), your first question is probably HOW will I know they need to go? The answer is, you simply will. You’ll look at their face and see them struggling in a way you have not before and know that they need help, now!

Your second question will be where should we go? A blessing of living in a large city like Dallas is that hospitals are plentiful. We have been to Medical City Dallas and Children’s Hospital for our emergencies. They were both outstanding. If I had to pick a favorite, it would be Medical City due to its smaller size, close-knit staff, and tender kindness we received there. Here is a great resource if you are trying to decide between an urgent care clinic and the ER. I encourage you to familiarize yourself with the route to and emergency room location at the hospital closest to you.

Our first trip to the emergency room was followed by a 3-week hospital stay to treat a bone infection in our 5-week-old son’s leg.

What to Expect

Most, if not all, emergency rooms now have an automated check-in system. Look for a computer or pad with signage for check-in – it should be quick and easy. Of course if you feel your child needs to be seen immediately, there will be someone at the front desk who can help. Your wait time will depend on your child’s age and symptoms. The youngest children and most severe problems get seen first. A nurse may call you back to quickly screen your child to make sure they are stable, then send you back to the waiting room again.

Once you get into a room, a doctor will assess your child and order any medication or tests they might need. Expect to be in this room for at least several hours. Do not be surprised if you end up answering the same questions several times to different people. At some point the doctor will re-assess your child and decide if they are ready to go home or if they need to be admitted to the hospital. The nurse will go over any important information with you for home care and follow-up before you leave.

What to Bring

If your emergency starts at home, and you feel you safely have time to grab a few things, your top 3 should be: phone charger, jacket, and snack. If you don’t have time, don’t worry because you should be calling for back-up! You are going to be there for a long time (likely 8+ hours), so back-up is necessary. Call someone – your husband, friend, mother-in-law, anyone to come sit with you for a bit. You will have to pee. In my experience there are no cribs in the ER, just very narrow beds with ridiculous railings. Also, emergency rooms are freezing so a jacket or sweater is a must. And you no matter how worried you are, you will be hungry after 8 hours. Your child may be too tired or upset to care, but ask your person to grab them a change of clothes, cup or bottle, and a lovey item just in case.

What to Ask For

You might be surprised at how many resources are available to you in the emergency room. They have warm blankets and cups of water. They have breast pumps, bottles, and formula. My lowest emergency room moment was holding a limp, sleeping baby (who was hooked up to oxygen and could not nurse) in one arm while trying to use a hand pump on my engorged breast with my other arm. And nurses are happy to hold your child briefly while you run to the restroom if you are alone.

If the emergency room team’s expertise perks your child up quickly, a child life worker is available to bring toys and a simple snack like crackers and juice. For older children, I noticed a shelf of DVDs. Don’t hesitate to ask for something – the staff will be glad to bring it to you if they have it! Always feel the freedom to ask for clarification when you don’t understand something or for more information about what is going on with your child. Every person is there to help you both.

Mama, I deeply hope you do not have to travel the emergency room road, but if you do maybe one of these little lessons will bring you comfort. We would be honored to hear emergency room experiences any of you may have been through already and want to share in the comments.
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