This post is part of a “Wish List” series in which I ask experts in different pediatric fields—medicine, education, etc.—what they really want parents to know and do better. Interested in hearing from a certain type of expert? Please make a suggestion here.
If there’s one genuinely stressful experience common to pretty much any parent, it’s a trip to the emergency room. There are few circumstances when we feel less in control than headed into the E.R. with a sick child in arms, and yet, it ranks high among situations when we’d most like to have our wits about us. As we approach winter, when emergency department volume peaks, I asked Katie, a pediatric nurse who’s worked in a major children’s hospital E. R. and a neonatal intensive care unit, what she wishes every parent knew before heading to the hospital. Thanks for the tips, Katie!
1. Buy a thermometer—and use it. One of the most frequent statements parents make is, “he/she has a fever.” The nurse will always ask, “how high was the fever?” and the most frequent response is “well, I don’t know. He/she just felt warm.” You can save time and money by simply taking your child’s temperature before heading to the hospital. A fever below 101 typically does not merit a visit to your local E.R. on its own.
2. Before coming to the ER, call your pediatrician and give your child a proper dosage of Motrin or Tylenol.
Your pediatrician knows your child (hopefully) better than we do. Calling them and giving them a heads up, and explaining symptoms or injuries, will determine if you truly need to go to your local E.R. To be safe, they’ll often tell you to go to your E.R., but they will also give us a heads up that you are coming. This may expedite your process, and we’ll have a better idea of who you are when you come into the E.R. Also, give a dose of Tylenol or Motrin before coming in, if your child has a headache, fever, pain, or is uncomfortable. This will also expedite your visit and you’ll be one step ahead of the game once you arrive to the E.R.
3. If you have a child with a complicated medical history, write down their allergies, history and medications and bring it with you. Life is hectic. We get it. But, if your child has multiple conditions, medications, allergies, or any other specific medical concerns, write them down in a lucid moment and put it in a slip of paper in your wallet or save it on your phone. Parents who come to the E.R. even slightly organized will help nurses and doctors do their job better. There have been countless occasions where parents have failed to mention an important medication or symptoms that can be very key in the diagnostic or treatment process. We truly need all the information. You know your child best, so be prepared to share your knowledge.
4. Do not be afraid to ask questions, ask for help, or inquire about resources. One of the best parts of being in an E.R. is that we get a chance to educate patients about almost anything health-related. Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor or nurse questions even if it seems silly or you think it might be common sense. We have access to multiple resources, from child life specialists who can stop by during your visit to outside specialists we can refer you to. We’d rather take extra time with you than have you walk out confused.
5. Be prepared to wait. The busiest time to go to any E.R. is between 4pm-midnight. The reason: School and sports practices end, kids will admit around dinner time that they do not feel well, or they have been sick all day and it seems to get worse around bedtime. We wish this wasn’t the case, but it is. Patients receive treatment based on how sick they are, not in the order they arrive. Bring a book, iPad, games, coloring books or anything else that can help keep kids occupied for about an hour or more. We’ll do everything we can for your child, and if they seem to be doing worse as you’re waiting, tell us. We definitely do not want you waiting longer than you have to, and if your child needs more Tylenol, Motrin, an Ice Pack, Band-Aid, blanket or anything else, we are always happy to help.
Read more expert wish lists here.