THE BLOG

A Nurse's Guide to ER Survival

Everyone should have at least one nurse in the family to share the inside scoop on hospitals and healthcare. For those who don't have a nurse to call your own, I have a few tips that should help you navigate your way through your next ER visit.
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Hospital staff rushing patient to operating room
Hospital staff rushing patient to operating room

It's been nearly three years since my last nursing shift in the ER, yet I still think of myself as a nurse. Being a nurse is a bit like being Catholic. Once a nurse, always a nurse, even if you're no longer practicing. I guess that makes sense. I was only twenty when I joined the profession and it's been a huge part of my life ever since.

Nursing influenced how I raised my kids. Bikes came with helmets, rollerblades came with wrist guards and there was never to be any bouncing on trampolines or back flips off the diving board. Broken bones would heal but a broken neck is forever. And it was fine to eat a handful of dirt now and then. It kept their immune systems primed for the scary stuff the CDC was always warning us about.

Nursing taught me to appreciate each day. I saw bad things happen to good people and learned that trauma can take, or irreparably change, your life in an instant. In the end, it's the simple pleasures which matter most. Family. Friendships. Sunset over the mountains. Nursing kept me grounded. Bearing witness to real life drama will do that.

Everyone should have at least one nurse in the family to share the inside scoop on hospitals and healthcare. For those who don't have a nurse to call your own, I have a few tips that should help you navigate your way through your next ER visit.

Nurses are, for the most part, nurturers who will treat you with compassion -- unless you piss them off and give them a reason not to. The ball's in your court.

The doctor may be the one to order your narcotic but it is your nurse who controls how quickly you receive it. Once again... the ball's in your court.

If the triage nurse tells you to take a seat in the waiting room, it doesn't mean she doesn't believe how miserable you feel. If you are actually dying, you will be taken straight back to the trauma room. So don't envy anyone who is taken before you. Someday, it may be you who is rushed straight back, and you will wish you were stable enough to take a seat.

If you need a work excuse and plan to say that you've been vomiting for days and can't keep a single thing down, hide the Red Bull and wipe the Cheetos dust off your lips before you sign in. Nurses notice those sorts of things.

Don't think that you have to cough in everyone's face or retch loudly enough to be heard throughout the ER to be taken seriously. Most ER nurses hold to the theory that there is an inverse proportion between the volume of the retching and the actual level of discomfort. The less drama, the more credible you will appear.

Whenever possible, have someone stay with you. Someone calm, who realizes that this time it is all about you and not an opportunity for them to share their war stories. But don't let them stand, glaring, in the doorway. It won't speed up your test results and nurses tend to spend more time in rooms where the hostility level is low.

There are so many more tips I would love to share but it is time for me to take a walk in the sunshine before the sun sets behind those mountains. But I'll be back. Forty years in hospitals around the world have produced more than a few interesting stories. Some are even fit to print.