If you are not experiencing an immediately life-threatening emergency, please double-check with your doctor if at all possible to see if there is a reasonable alternative to going to the ER. Not only are ER visits substantially more expensive than regular doctor or hospital visits, but they also are spaces where you have almost no control over any aspect of your treatment, and your risk of being subject to trauma, abuse, or bias is relatively high.
If for any reason, you absolutely do need to go to an ER, the best thing you can do is be prepared for it.
Prepare yourself mentally and emotionally
First, you want to be mentally and emotionally prepared for the bais you are likely to experience. Do what you can not to take it personally, though filing a complaint about the bias if never a bad idea if you have the spoons.
What do I mean by this? Well, whatever your identity is, you have an increased risk of having those stereotypes used against you – so go into the hospital as prepared as possible to prevent the application of those biases.
For example, I am aware that women are often assumed to be overstating the amount of pain that they are in, and in some cases are presumed to be panicking or ‘hysterical’ if expressing strong emotions, so I do what I can to be precise in my pain descriptions and as calm as I can be in explaining my situation.
With my FND diagnosis, people too often conflate ‘psychosomatic’ and ‘made up’, so I avoid hospital trips if I suspect an FND symptom, and only go to an ER either with my doctor’s urging or if I have a very physically measurable symptom(like a broken bone).
Second, you need to accept that it will likely be traumatic and do what you can to mitigate that damage.
- Recognize that most people go to ER’s in times of desperation and panic – when anybody is at their worst.
- Remind yourself that you need this help, no matter what happens at the ER. If it were mild enough that you didn’t need to be here, you wouldn’t be here!
- Reassure yourself that you deserve the best possible treatment and that you deserve it, no matter what people at the ER might do or say.
- Relax your body and mind as much as you can before you go, and do what you can to maintain that relaxation while you’re there.
Pack yourself a go-bag
While most pregnant women put together a bag to bring to the hospital when they go into labor, I think it’s a good idea to do something similar if you have a high risk of needing an ER visit or before a planned time in the hospital or an ER.
I feel like one of the top priorities should be something to distract yourself with. Examples could be knitting materials, a sodoku book, a romance novel, coloring supplies, or anything similar that 1) is unlikely to increase your symptoms(for example, music when you’re managing sound sensitivity) and 2) doesn’t require frequent charging or recharging(there are few feelings worse than running out of charge in your only form of distraction).
You may be waiting for hours to be seen and more hours to get results, so you want to have something to do during that interminable downtime instead of stew in your fears. I tend to bring an extra distraction or two with me most places I go, but I think everybody needs that distraction at the ER. My go-to’s are coloring books and supplies or my kindle.
Besides that, have a bottle of water(or beverage of your choice) and one or two simple snacks that meet your dietary needs. This is especially important if you have food allergies or sensitivities or something that’s likely to be triggered or worsened by hunger.
Even if you can’t imagine it being that long, or you just ate before you went – ER waits can be insanely long, and if your condition is severe enough, you may end up being admitted immediately.
While there is a chance of vending machine or other food options nearby, one of the more stressful things about ERs is that you never know when your name is going to be called, or what’s going to happen next.
You don’t want to step out of the room and not hear your name – or send your companion out to get you a snack and then either not go back right away, or have them return with no clue where you are.
So if you can, have something packed or a plan on what gets tossed in before you go.
Even if you’re not expecting to be there long, you likely want to pack some clothes. Something extra to wear or change into(this could be as simple as a comfy sweatshirt in case the AC is high to an entire replacement outfit or two).
It also can’t hurt to have a travel toothbrush and toothpaste or other self-care creature comforts if you think it’s at all likely that you’d need to be admitted. This is less essential but could be a huge emotional support if you do end up needing to stay and have a particular flavor or scent that comforts you.
In my case, I always wear comfortable clothing(or at least the least uncomfortable option), and I usually bring multiple cloth pads with me due to my urinary incontinence issues.
This way, if need be, I can step into a bathroom and change pads when those problems come up, keeping myself more comfortable than I would be otherwise.
Don’t go alone
Also, while you can’t fit this in a bag, I highly recommend having a planned travel companion to the hospital, who can help you through the process.
It is really hard to think clearly when you’re uncomfortable or in pain. Most people don’t go into the hospital unless they are uncomfortable or in pain. So, if you are heading to the ER, you’re likely not in your best possible shape.
It’s quite possible that you shouldn’t be driving either since something that requires an ER visit is likely to distract you from the focus needed to drive safely.
So who do you bring with you?
Ideally, somebody deeply familiar with your condition and (more importantly) somebody who believes you and is willing and able to advocate on your behalf. If your identity is frequently subject to discrimination, it may be helpful to have somebody with you whose identity isn’t subjected to as much bias.
If somebody regularly goes to doctor’s appointments with you, they are likely to be your best company for an ER trip as well, for similar reasons.
The only thing that may be worse than going to the ER alone is going to the ER with somebody who is abusive to you or refuses to recognize or accept any diagnosis that you have. If they will even slightly reduce your overall stress level, that’s who you bring along(or have meet you there as soon as possible).
My partner Al comes along with me to most of my appointments, but especially to ERs or other appointments with a lot of unknowns(first appointment with a new doctor for example). He isn’t comfortable doing a lot of the advocacy work(I am), but he is extremely good at helping me calm down or stay calm, and can pretty much always diffuse the worst of my tension.
If I was going to be unconscious or otherwise needed somebody to advocate for me, I would want my mother involved too, but Al is my primary support.
Managing stress in an ER
Emergency room trips are often stressful and traumatic, and many patients are exposed to more bias than they otherwise would be.
I have some suggestions for what to put into a go-bag for a hospital visit: distractions, snacks, extra clothes and/or supplies and something to drink!
I’ve also laid out the importance of not going to the ER alone and thinking about who goes with you if you have that luxury when you need to go.
Going to the ER is a stressful business, but there are things you can do to make it easier on yourself.
I hope you never have to go to an ER, but if you do need to, I hope this guide will help you be prepared for the visit!