There's a good chance your child will wind up in an emergency room at least once before she's 18. The trip will be a lot less scary -- for everyone -- if you're prepared ahead of time and know how to react.
What to do immediately
* If it's not a directly life-threatening situation (such as choking), call the pediatrician first. Not everything needs to be handled in an ER.
* If you need to go to the hospital, determine whether your child can be moved. If she's lost consciousness, is short of breath, has an injury that's painful or dangerous to move (like a serious fracture), or needs treatment first (such as for an allergic reaction), call an ambulance.
* Check your watch. In an emergency, people lose sense of time, but it may be important for medical staff to know when injuries or symptoms first occurred.
* If your child can safely be driven to the hospital without an ambulance, call a friend. If possible, have her drive while you comfort your child. If not, ask her to meet you at the hospital to help make phone calls or fill out forms.
* If you have time, grab a lovey or a favorite book.
Ways to prepare beforehand
Near your main phone, post these emergency contacts:
- pediatrician's number
- 911 (or the equivalent in your community)
- Poison Control: 800-222-1222 (It'll automatically connect to your local center.)
In an easy-to-grab file, stash this article, plus medical info:
- a description for each child of drug sensitivities, allergies, chronic conditions, special medical needs, or previous hospitalizations
- your family's health insurance ID numbers
- a list of any medications (with dosages) that each of your children takes
- immunization records -- especially for tetanus
- phone numbers for the pediatrician (even if it's posted by the phone), dentist, and pharmacist
- directions to the nearest hospital emergency room
Know your way:
Take the time to familiarize yourself with the route to the ER. You'll be grateful you know in the event you ever need to get there fast.
At the ER: What to expect
Arriving A nurse may be the first person to see your child. She'll determine how serious the injury is -- patients are seen based on the severity of the condition, not in order of when they arrive. In the case of a bump or cut, she may ice or clean the area, but she may not be able to give your child pain medication until a doctor sees her.
Waiting Comfort your child by controlling your own nerves; let her know you're there for her by cuddling, stroking, holding her hand. If you can, move away from any disturbing sights or sounds. Talk calmly about what's happening.
Getting care When an emergency doctor's ready, you'll most likely be allowed in the treatment room to soothe your child. Try not to get in the way of the medical staff. If you feel overwhelmed, step outside while you collect yourself.
Signing out Make sure you're clear on her diagnosis, what was done to treat her, and what follow-up care and medications she may need. List: prescriptions, instructions for home care, names of the doctors who treated your child (your pediatrician may want to follow up with them later), tests done, medications taken, possible symptoms that would warrant an immediate return to the ER.
Coming home Reassure her that she's on the mend and praise her for being so good in a difficult situation. Try to involve her in her recovery by explaining what happened and what will happen next. Be sensitive to her stress level in the next few days, even weeks. And extra hugs never hurt.