My phone rang.
‘Hey, honey?’ my partner Al said “I need you to call mom and dad about this, but I want you to make sure they don’t freak out”
“Freak out about what?” I asked, instantly concerned.
“Well, they called an ambulance for me. I slipped and I think I might have dislocated my hip or something. I can’t stand up.” All of this was delivered extremely calmly, without inflection.
When Al is in a deep state of shock, that’s what he does – he shuts down his emotions and just gets what he needs to do done.
This was our second time dealing with a severe injury on his part, so just hearing him let me know that he was in pretty bad shape.
My mind started racing, thinking about what I could or couldn’t do, how I could get to him, and what I was going to do next.
It was a wet, rainy day, and I had been about to head out to see a musical my cousin was participating in. Obviously, this changed my plans.
Those moments of conversation had completely changed my expectations and priorities for the day, with me anticipating more challenges ahead.
The stress of waiting
I remember when my father’s accident occurred, we spent over 6 hours in a waiting room with no information.
My mother, then-boyfriend, and I were waiting for updates, calling family and friends for support, and waiting to hear something.
The pressure of not knowing what was happening was intense and terrifying.
I think anybody who has had a life-or-death emergency room experience is pretty traumatized, and that includes the family and friends who accompany the person or who endure the grueling wait and agonizing uncertainty that goes with it.
Whether you are the patient, or you are accompanying the patient, there is an air of desperation and fear that accompanies an ER visit.
Emergency rooms and trauma
Emergency room visits can be a very traumatic experience for anyone. Many patients experience PTSD, especially if they feel that the ER staff wasn’t compassionate(respectful of the patient and empathetic to their needs) enough.
Many ERs are not particularly good at displaying compassion. The ER Al had been taken to was not an exception.
When Al’s sister, mother, and I arrived at the hospital(I don’t drive, so his sister picked me up and the three of us went up together), Al had been alone in the ER for a couple of hours.
He was stuck partially covered by a hospital gown, unable to completely remove his soaking wet clothes. He had waited forty minutes in the rain for the ambulance to arrive.
While the nurse had given him a hospital gown to change into, he wasn’t able to change unassisted, though he had tried. Nobody had offered to help him.
His gurney was parked in the hallway of the ER, with no privacy whatsoever.
His mother and I helped him get into the gown with modesty intact, removing his wet clothes – the three of us creating a barrier with our bodies from the rest of the ER.
He had been X-rayed moments before we arrived, and there was nothing any of us could do until those results came back.
It was a Friday night, and the ER was full of activity.
Shortly after we arrived, the police walked in, half-carrying a man whose face looked beaten and was covered in blood.
They handcuffed him to a gurney and put him right next to the only bathroom we could see in the area.
He was ranting and yelling incoherently, and the idea of going near him bordered on terrifying – he was just radiating anger.
I did manage to walk by him to use the bathroom during our several-hour wait, but Al’s mom was so frightened of going near the man that she couldn’t bring herself to approach the bathroom.
Al shared that while he was waiting, another patient in the ER had been crying for attention, and being ignored by the staff. Eventually, he called out for death to help him, since nobody else was.
His sister went to the admission desk regularly to ask if they had results from the X-rays yet. She kept being told to wait.
Around midnight(we’d arrived around 9), we were told that the X-rays didn’t show anything, but since he was in so much pain they were holding him to try to figure it out.
A bit after one, we asked the front desk for an update, and a different staff member told us that he had an acetabular fracture and needed to be admitted.
Finally, around 2 AM, we left the ER. His mom and sister went home to regroup, and Al was moved to the ICU, with me refusing to leave his side.
Pretty much every step of an emergency room experience is traumatic in one way or another, and frequently varies between the anxiety involved in waiting for important information and the stress involved with potentially needing to make life-altering decisions quickly.
Getting admitted through an ER
Al and I have both been admitted to a hospital by going through the emergency room.
As mentioned above, Al’s acetabular fracture was a severe enough injury that the only appropriate next step was to be admitted to a hospital.
This is also a way for doctors to get patients into the hospital relatively quickly if the space they need to be is full.
I was admitted to a different hospital for testing before my FND diagnosis by one neurologist.
In that case, he wasn’t sure what was going on, but felt that being under observation might help him crack the case, and he had multiple tests he wanted to be done as quickly as possible.
He knew that otherwise, it would take weeks to months to get the testing done when he could do all the tests after a couple of days in the hospital.
Also, due to my constant movement symptoms, I needed to have some of the testing(such as a few MRIs) done under sedation, which again is much more easily done as a patient, as opposed to outside the hospital.
I walked into that hospital early on a Tuesday morning and waited about 12 hours or so for a bed in the hospital to open up. During that time, I was lying in a gurney in the emergency department.
It was pretty stressful and not easy on me, but by going in via the ER, I was getting the appropriate testing as a hospital patient in under 24 hours, when getting admitted to the hospital any other way would likely have taken weeks.
Becoming an admitted patient through the emergency room is generally more immediately stressful process, and its only real advantage is that there may be fewer days between recognizing the need and being admitted for testing.
The primary downside, of course, is that you’re going through the ER which is traumatic and stressful in and of itself.
Going to an ER is often traumatic
Whether you are the patient or their companion, going to an ER is likely to be an upsetting and traumatic experience.
I have been inside of ERs multiple times both as a patient and as a companion, and the stress and anxiety around it are very real and need to be respected.
Not only do people go to emergency rooms for actual emergencies, but also many doctors use the ER as a speedier way to get patients admitted to the if appropriate.
No matter why you go or how you get there, you still are at a high risk of being traumatized by some aspect of it, so, if you can, plan ahead to manage that stress.