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The 6 Steps I Consider Before Going to the ER

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I sat there sweating, thinking to myself, “I can’t believe I did it again.” I convinced myself that my latest chest pain had to be a heart attack.

Left side of chest hurting: check.

Left arm and hand tingling: check.

Pressure in chest: check.

On and on the list went, and as I checked off each symptom in my mind, that symptom got worse and became even more urgent. Each symptom I thought of, I had, and felt like they matched the exact symptoms for a heart attack. Slowly but surely I started my “ER dance,” thinking I knew exactly what was wrong with me. I scared myself into doing the one thing I shouldn’t do.

Before someone thinks I am advocating to not go to the ER if you have symptoms of a heart attack, I am not. What I am saying is that in these days of search engines right at our fingertips, and every possible disease just a click or two away, we might need to slow down. The idea came to me one night at 3 a.m. as I was being discharged from the ER and sent on my not-so-merry way. I walked out into the early morning air only to find this kind of macabre scene of people in pajamas and slippers, some wearing those ER gowns and orange treaded socks for slip and fall risks. To me, it felt like a desperate scene of humanity at what seemed was their worst.

As I deal with a rare disease, I have found these six steps help me to make better decisions about my care. It is one of the simplest ideas I ever had, and one I truly needed. I have tweaked it here and there, and lost my own battles to the “ER blues,” but it has proven to be effective at helping me avoid “wasted” trips to the ER.

Step 1. Slow down. Make a conscious effort to slow everything down, your thinking, your breathing, and your “rush to the ER” judgment.

Step 2. Imagine you have lost all connectivity, that no device can reach the internet and you have to be strict about not going online.

Step 3. Remind yourself that you are OK, this is all temporary, and no matter what, you will take care of yourself.

Step 4. Take your time and write down how you are feeling; this step is crucial.

Step 5. Now, write down your options for medical care. For instance, write the information for urgent care, your primary care doctor, or a specialist you are seeing – or any other option you can think of.

Step 6. Do you still feel like going to the ER?

I would bet if you are like me, you no longer want to go to the one place where most have had some of our worst medical experiences. But  if you do, then by all means go. The ER is sometimes needed and has its purpose, but if it is not really an emergency, try reaching your other medical options for care first.

Originally published: June 28, 2018
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