To the Emergency Room Doctors Who Think They See Me Too Often

Dear Emergency Room Doctor,

We know in the ER we are known as “frequent flyers” because we have the unfortunate distinction of having to visit so often. We know you consider us a drain on your department’s resources and you think we take valuable bed space from others who “really need it.” We know you wish we would stop cluttering the ER with our chronic conditions and see our primary care physicians instead.

Here are a few things you might not know:

You might not know it’s often a call to or from a primary care physician’s office that has us heading to see you. You are not our first choice for treatment, as ER waiting rooms are often filled with people coughing and sneezing with contagious colds or flu we do not want to risk catching. But either our primary care physicians do not want us to wait until office hours to start treatment or their offices are not equipped to provide the treatment we need.

You might not know that we already wait much longer than a person typically would before we give in to our families’ or primary care physicians’ requests to go to the ER. This backfires when we are asked “How long has this been going on?” — and answer with a time frame of days instead of hours. We see it in your eyes when you think, “This is not urgent if it has been going on for days, and the pain can’t be that bad if they waited this long.” The fear of being called a “frequent flyer” makes us delay coming, which makes us “non-urgent.” It is a cruel Catch-22.

We know you cannot “fix” us, and we do not expect you to create a cure during our visit. All we want is help getting through a difficult flare of our condition by means of supportive care and to make sure that nothing dangerous has happened in conjunction with our condition that needs to be addressed before it is too late.

We “frequent flyers” would like to have a working relationship with you where realistic goals are set and respect is given on both sides.

After all, our goals are the same: to get us out of there as fast as possible and keep us out of there for longer periods of time.

A Frequent Flyer

The Mighty is asking the following: Describe a moment when you were at a hospital and a medical staffer, fellow patient or a stranger made a negative or surprising comment that caught you off guard. How did you respond to it? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit A Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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