By Kathy Hubbard
Around 136 million Americans will visit an ER this year. Most of them will be between the ages of 18 and 24 or over 65. And over 70 percent of those people are seeking care for non-emergency issues. So, it’s no surprise that emergency room physicians offer lists of things to do to stay out of the ER.
Dr. Matthew Vasey is an emergency physician at Tampa General Hospital in Florida. His top three suggestions for staying out of the ER are: “1. Don’t text and drive; 2. Don’t drive distracted by anything else, either; 3. While you’re at it, wear your seat belt. And your bicycle helmet.”
He also advises to safety-proof your home, exercise and eat right, and get vaccinated. “Flu, pneumonia, meningitis – all of them can mean ER trips. Avoid the risk with a few shots.”
And no surprise he tells us not to drink. “It’s not just health risks from drinking and drugs. It’s also the injuries that happen while people are drunk or high.”
Rada Jones, MD is a retired emergency room physician as well as an author from upstate New York. She explains, “We’re ER folks. We do emergencies. Our tests look for emergencies. If you come to the ER for anything but an emergency, you’re in the wrong place. Seeing an ER doc for a non-emergent problem is like seeing a cardiologist for your diarrhea.”
And about diarrhea she says, “One runny episode doesn’t count. Diarrhea is when you run out of toilet paper.”
Dr. Jones’ 49 ways to avoid the ER are priceless in their humor. I wish I had room for all of them, but you can find the article in its entirety at www.radajonesmd.com. Some of my favorite comments are:
“If you’ve been coughing for a week and smoke, go buy honey. Don’t come to the ER unless you have a fever, you’re short of breath or you have chest pain. You’ll cough for at least three weeks. There’s nothing I can do to stop that unless I kill you. That will stop your cough, but it’s illegal.”
As for smoking, she says to quit. “You won’t set your house on fire. You’ll save money. Your doctor will stop harassing you. You’ll set a good example for your kids. Your car will smell better. So will you.”
She goes on: “Do not, I repeat, do not stick your hand in your snowblower to clean it.” I think your power mower should be included in that comment. “You may never be able to play the guitar or tie your shoes again. It may put a damper on your loving, yourself or others.”
She also says not to separate fighting dogs with your bare hands. “Dogs can handle dog bites better than you can. They come from wolves. We come from monkeys. We’re out of their league.
“If you have an appointment with your doctor, don’t cancel it to come to the ER instead because you’re too sick to see your doctor. Unless your doctor is Dr. Seuss, Dr. Pepper, or a plastic surgeon, caring for sick people is what your doctor does. Keep your appointments.”
And then she added, “Forget Dr. Google. He’ll drive you insane worrying about improbable things you can’t pronounce, let alone understand, and he won’t even give you a work note. If you’ve already seen a specialist for your problem, coming to the ER for a second opinion won’t help. I specialize in first opinions.”
While on the subject of doctors, Dr. Jones suggests getting a doctor of your own. “He’s better than me at managing your blood pressure, your diabetes, your ED (erectile dysfunction). Cheaper too. It will save you time – it’s gonna be a long wait if you’re here for a Viagra script. Plus, I have no free samples.”
We’re running out of room, so I’ll hurry. She says don’t hold your chainsaw between your legs to start it; don’t run, walk the dog or climb a ladder in flip flops. And besides saying don’t fry bacon naked, perhaps her best advice is, “If you’re calling the ER to ask how busy we are, you don’t need to come.”
Kathy Hubbard is a member of the Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This article was written for and published in the Bonner County Daily Bee on August 10, 2022.