What to Expect When You Go to the ER


Hospitals, doctors, insurance, and all things medical are far from my forte, and well outside my comfort level, but after two trips to Blank Children’s Hospital’s ER and a full day at the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital this past month, I’ve learned a few things about what to expect.

Now that we are all healthy I finally have a moment to think about the AMAZING professionals, care, and support these two hospitals have provided my family and share a bit of learning from our experiences. As though I needed another reason to love Des Moines and the state of Iowa, I am so grateful to have access to world-class, patient-centered and kid-friendly care!

My concept of the emergency room has been (embarrassingly) warped by every hospital drama on primetime, so when the nurse on call said we needed to head to the ER, the first-time, my brain immediately filled with images of frantic doctors and nurses running around with IV bags and stretchers. The reality was, our visits were calm, thorough, and eased the nerves of mom and dad too.

What Really Happens in the Emergency Room

First, you check in. Ask your doctor to call ahead, if possible, so everything is on file, and they know you’re en route. You’ll get the vitals out of the way and give your first narrative of why you’re there once you’re called back. Remember, the sickest patients go first in the ER. So be patient.

I say the first narrative because each time you meet a new doctor or nurse, they will have you repeat it. My go-go mindset found this annoying, but I quickly realized each person was listening intently to see if there was anything we had left out previously that could help. Lesson learned, leave your mama bear brain at home.

If your child needs labs or imaging, it can take awhile. Actually, everything takes awhile. The ER is the epicenter of problem-solving in the hospital. There are many specialties all conferencing, treating, and thinking. Let them work and be patient. Not a single person we met didn’t apologize for our wait. While this felt like forever, I know I’ve waited in a Target line longer. It’s all about perspective. 

What to bring to the emergency room

Bring the diaper bag essentials including a change of clothes. Also, if your child has any vitamins or medicines, snap a photo or bring them too. The doctors are going to ask about these repeatedly, so do your best to help them out and know timing, dosage, and names. 

Bring a comfort item. For our girl, it had to be the large Minnie Mouse, not the travel one, and her blanket. Kudos to our amazing doctor for making sure Minnie checked out too.

I joked earlier about packing your patience, but it’s crucial. There is a lot happening in an ER. Back to my Target reference, the ER is like Target on a Saturday, only everyone is sick. Breathe. Your kid is miserable, you’re likely exhausted, but you’re one piece of the puzzle. Breathe.

Before you leave

Ask for the Tylenol/ibuprofen dosage info, if needed. Don’t try and do the math on your own. We had a nurse at Blank who organized it all for us so we wouldn’t have to think on the fly when we got home. It’s one less thing to think about, just ask.

Be clear about when to return should that have to happen. Also, it’s probably up to you to call your family physician and follow up. Do this as soon as possible. They will likely want to check in.

Ask questions. No thought or question is dumb. If someone is there with you, encourage them to ask. The worst feeling is getting in the car and thinking of something two minutes down the road. However, if that does happen, just call. You’ll all (hopefully) sleep better if it’s not on your minds.

Lastly, thank everyone. Their work is not easy. Bring a little joy to their shift and let them know how much you appreciate their care!

Have you had to go to the emergency room with kids? How was your experience? 


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