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The Indecisiveness I Feel About Going to the Emergency Room for My Illness

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“To go, or not to go” to the emergency department is a decision I find so terribly hard to make. I wonder if it’s like that for everyone who experiences chronic illness? I always waver, thinking that things might pick up if I wait another 15 minutes, and then another 15 minutes. Do you prevaricate and find this so hard like I do?

For William Shakespeare there was that famous “To be, or not to be? That is the question…” line from the tragedy, Hamlet. Hamlet is pondering life, its unfairness against the uncertainty of death which could be an even worse fate. My pondering is rather similar. Do I take action by going to the emergency room and have the consequence of being on the medical merry-go-round? Maybe my condition won’t really get bad enough? Or, do I not go and risk the possibility of my situation becoming life-threatening? Is this indecisiveness me, or is it my illness?

I wish someone else was responsible for making that decision! My indecision is associated with severe asthma. I am relatively new to asthma. I am 68 and have only had to deal with this for three years now. I don’t have a really good handle on it. Asthma can escalate so quickly into a dangerous acute situation. But, I can never tell if this one will be a big one or not. I have the same indecisiveness thinking about whether to call an ambulance or not!

In February, I did call the ambulance. I was extremely scared during an asthma attack, and so were my husband and eldest son. They actually made the emergency call. I couldn’t speak! But it took 20 minutes for the paramedics to arrive. By then my asthma plan steps had been carried out and my breathing was becoming controlled. It was the scariest medical emergency I have ever experienced.

My February visit to the emergency room via ambulance was very short and did have a couple of positives. A specialist gave me a much more aggressive asthma plan to follow; and I really understood how terrifying a severe attack can be and how very quickly it goes from just a bit of a problem to a gigantic problem. So I have learned from this to err on the side of “doing” rather than “not doing.”

Part of the dilemma comes from guilt. I feel guilty for fronting up for emergency and not really being all that ill. I will be wasting someone’s time!   I will be seen as a “silly old woman.” Or a bit of a hypochondriac! Or all of these!

Then I recall the time I sat in my pajamas in the waiting room after triage and sat and sat and sat. I wanted to just go home! I was fed up with the waiting. I felt terrible but I thought I might as well be at home than in a roomful of people with the flu and other catchy illnesses. I finally see the doctor, who immediately directs a bed be found and I be admitted. My oxygen saturation was 87 percent, dangerously low. That meant nothing to me at the time, but I certainly understand it was a very significant problem.   That ended up as two days in the hospital. That tells me I can’t always judge how well or unwell I am!

So, the lesson from this is that my decisions  are flawed. They are based on feelings and hopes and very little knowledge and understanding of medicine! So, maybe I should have no qualms and just “go” whenever there is a doubt?How do you decide?

I have just come home from another two days in the hospital from asthma. Again, I put the decision off and off again and when I eventually realized I was in trouble, I was in quite an acute situation. I was gasping and couldn’t even talk. I really did need to have called an ambulance!

Why do I have this terrible guilt about wasting the time of doctors, nurses and other professionals in the emergency department? What is causing this? Guilt is a feeling of emotional discomfort that can happen whenever our actions or inactions have caused or might cause harm to another person, such as wasting their time. Guilt often happens in very short bursts but can have a significant impact.

Guilt makes it difficult to think rationally. So, having guilt present makes my decision-making even harder. Unnecessary guilt can make me think my actions of going to the emergency room will adversely affect the doctors and nurses. In the cold, hard light of reality, this is pretty ridiculous! Because I have this guilt, I exacerbate my own stress levels too! And more stress is bad for any chronic illness. It makes an asthma attack worse!

So, where to from here?

1. Try to figure out why this guilt is associated with wasting the time of the medical people. When I can work this out, I expect indecision will no longer plague me!

2. Stop expecting myself to get it perfect all of the time. It doesn’t matter if I turn up at the emergency room and the situation is no longer so severe. Being in the emergency department is safer than being at home without medical support.

3. Stop judging myself. I am not perfect, nor is anyone else.

4. Accept the seriousness of this illness! I do not need to attach any guilt or shame to needing professional help and support.

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Thinkstock photo via NilsBV. 

Originally published: July 26, 2017
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