EMERGENCY: Planning for When You Need Health Care in a Hurry
Planning for an emergency might sound like an oxymoron but it’s actually a great way to take care of yourself and the people you love.
Some hints to make the best of any emergency room trip:
1. Go at the right time. We might laugh at the stereotype of the dyke who breaks a leg playing softball and tries to walk it off, but let’s be real: the stereotypes come from somewhere. Do yourself--and everyone who loves you-- a favor and don’t delay getting care. Protip: If your friends have to drag you kicking and screaming into the emergency room with green pus shooting out of any body orifice, you’ve waited too long.
If you’re not always sure what’s going on with your body (which is many of us sometimes, and some of us much of the time, so no shaming here) build a relationship with friends who can help you be accountable. Work out a system where they have permission to make observations or suggestions.
Maybe something like “Hey you know, I’ve noticed you’ve had this cough for three weeks, and you seem to be spitting up blood and you just fell over when you stood up. Do you think it’s time to get some medical care?”
Remember “I don’t want to go to the emergency room” is not a good enough reason to not go to the emergency room if you actually have an emergency. If you can’t go for yourself, go for the people who care about you. Seeking help is a sign of strength, friends, and you don’t have to love every bit of your body to take care of it.
2. Go to the right hospital. If you live in a rural area where there is only one hospital for miles and miles you don’t have much choice. Also, if the situation calls for making a 911 call, you’ll more than likely end up at the closest hospital. But if you have a friend who can give you a ride, you’ll want to go to the hospital where you usually get care or the hospital that has a reputation for being clinically proficient and queer friendly. Ideally, these are all the same place.
For minor problems like cuts that need stitches, sprains or minor fractures (like a broken finger, not a broken femur) you’ll be seen more quickly at an urgent care center. Most have board certified physicians supervising care. This option works best if you are insured or can lay down some cash, as urgent care centers are not required to treat uninsured folks.
Emergency rooms, on the other hand, are required by the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor ACT to screen and stabilize all patients, regardless of insurance status, to determine if there is a medical emergency. The law doesn’t say how quickly you have to be seen, and patients in the emergency room are treated in order of severity of injuries, not in order of arrival. But if you are outright refused even an assessment, mention the EMTALA by name.
3. Bring the right people. No one should ever go to the hospital alone. Ever. Under any circumstances. Ever.
4. Bring the right things. If you taking any kind of medication; prescription, over the counter or made of flowers and herbs and the sweat of the goddess, you will need to have a list to share with the clinical staff. If you don't have a current list, even sweeping all the bottles from the medicine cabinet into a plastic bag is better than nothing.
I also suggest that folks living in group houses, (you know the kind filled with eleven queers and named Ahimsa) keep emergency forms for each room-mate in the freezer, where they are unlikely to be misplaced. The form should include current medications, significant medical history, emergency contact numbers and a copy of each person’s health care proxy form.
You do have a health care proxy form, right? The form that says who gets to make medical decisions for you if can’t make them yourself? Laws vary in different areas, and some protection may be offered by domestic partnership or marriage, but if you don’t have a health care proxy document, your closest biological relative may well be the person who would be making decisions for you in such a case. Is that what you want? That’s what I thought. Fill out a health care proxy form.
You should also take contact numbers and a cell phone charger, pen and paper to take notes (always take notes), and reading material. If you’ve got time, grab hand sanitizer (so many germs in the ER) and coins for the vending machines to facilitate easy snack access.