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What’s the Emergency?

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Shaindy comes home from school clutching her forearm.

“Tzippy pushed me! I fell off the swing.”

Does she need an X-ray right away? Can it wait until tomorrow?

Bubby’s been acting confused for the last few hours, and she looks “off.”

“I’m fine, stop worrying,” she mutters somewhat coherently.

Did she drink enough today? Could it be something more serious?

Deciding when to seek urgent medical care is a weighty decision, one that many laypeople don’t feel comfortable making. Where to go for your emergency can be equally vexing: Is the ER the right place? Can the urgent care center around the corner handle it? Should I just call my doctor?

“Even physicians have trouble making that kind of call — what’s an emergency,” says Cincinnati physician assistant Dov Katz, who’s been working in emergency rooms since 2015. “You can’t expect the general public who hasn’t gone to medical school to know the answers to these complex questions.”

Yet you are expected to, on some level.

Shaindy’s looking to you: “Mommy, do something to make it stop hurting!”

Bubby’s not going to take care of her own medical needs in her condition.

And that nasty cut you got when you were slicing vegetables — does the homemade bandage you put together look right?

“If you’re nervous or worried, come in,” says Dr. Gedaliah Cooper, an emergency physician in Troy, Michigan. “That’s why we’re here — to help — even if we end up just telling people there’s really nothing to worry about. Part of what we do is give reassurance to patients that they are okay, that they don’t need to be admitted.”

Still, you don’t want to waste your time — or money on that hefty ER copay — if you don’t have to. Below, ER professionals give their take on 12 different health situations to help you get to the right place at the right time, to make the most of your visit.

Chest Pain

This one is a no-brainer. If you’re having chest pain, the emergency room is the place to go, particularly if you’re sweating, have pain in your jaw, arm, or neck, or are short of breath.

“Only six percent of all chest pain that presents to the emergency room is potentially life threatening. That means 94 percent of the time it’s not a vascular or surgical emergency,” says Dov Katz. “That’s good, but that also means it’s challenging for us to find the people who are actually sick.”

At an urgent care center, they may be able to do an EKG (electrocardiogram), a report of the heart’s electrical activity. “But if the results are abnormal, you’ll need bloodwork, maybe more tests, and they’re usually not equipped for that,” Katz adds.

“If you’re having chest pain — especially if you have a history of heart issues — don’t drive yourself to the hospital,” says Dr. Cooper. Strongly consider calling an ambulance, he suggests, rather than having someone else drive you in.

“A lot of people think they’ll get to the hospital quicker if they hop in the car. An ambulance might take five minutes to get to your home, but then you have someone on the scene who can really help. Time and again, I’ve seen people come by car with chest pain and have a cardiac arrest on the way to hospital.

“Sometimes it’s better to bring medical care to you than to go to medical care.”

(Excerpted from Family First, Issue 613)


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