Be smart, be safe

Tips for avoiding the emergency department

Tips for avoiding the emergency department

December 27, 2009|By CRYSTAL SCHELLE

Dr. Chris Gentle said during the actual day of a holiday, foot traffic is pretty light in the emergency department.

It's the next day, Gentle said, that he and the rest of the Washington County Hospital emergency department staff see an increase in traffic.

"People try to avoid coming in the day of the holiday," he said. "What we see is a tremendous spike the following. People tend to put things off as much as they can and wind up getting a bit sicker and coming in the following day."

The last place most people want to spend their time off is in the ER waiting room. But during the season of excess, partying along with other things, can sometimes lead to a trip to the hospital.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has 12 holiday tips for keeping safe for the holiday season. (See sidebar on page B6.) Ignoring these common-sense tips can lead to predictable, regrettable results - and Gentle said he's seen the nearly all of them.

"I think you can look at these, and I can find an example of something related to this every day," said Gentle, who has been working in the emergency room for nearly five years (including his time in residency). "Except pets, we really don't see pets."

Colder months can bring a whole new set of accidents or injuries that can result in trips to the ER.

"Wintertime we see an increase in respiratory illnesses, an increase in falls, an increase in winter sports-related activities. So once the ski season starts we see an increase of those types of injuries," he said.

However, Gentle said, physicians are seeing traditional problems in the ER such as abdominal pain and chest pain.

"They are the two most common complaints regardless of what time of year it is," he said.

Gentle said it's hard to tell a person without a medical background when they should or shouldn't seek medical treatment. Sometimes it's better to be overly cautious.

If a person is having difficulty breathing, then he or she shouldn't wait, Gentle said. Get medical attention immediately.

"If they're getting very easily short of breath, (and) if they're short of breath at rest, they really need to see somebody," he said.

The seriousness of chest pain can be difficult to assess for a person who isn't trained medically. But those who have a higher-risk, particularly middle-aged or older people or people who are diabetic or hypertensive, should seek medical help, he said.

"The bottom line is always err on the side of caution," Gentle said. "And if you think that something's not right, you should come in and get it checked out."

Honesty is the best policy when it comes to being a patient in the emergency department. Gentle said being truthful can aid the medical staff in properly treating the patient. And being honest, he said, is especially important if the patient has a complicated medical history.

With many people traveling, patients sometimes don't receive care at the same hospital at which they have a primary caregiver. That's why Gentle suggests patients carry a list of medications and dosages. The list can be kept in a person's wallet, which can assist medical personnel to quickly understand the patient's medical history, he said.

At the end of the day, Gentle said the emergency department is there to help.

"Unfortunately, people get sick 24 hours a day," Gentle said. "And bad things happen to good people all the time on off hours. We are always here to serve. We are the safety net for the health care system. We are open 24/7 and we are willing to see anybody for any reason."

How to reduce chances of illness and injury

  • Wash your hands often. CDC recommends washing your hands with soap and clean running water for at least 20 seconds. Dr. Chris Gentle, a physician with Washington County Hospital emergency department, said this is extremely important not to spread disease.

  • Stay warm and dry. The CDC reports that cold temperatures can cause serious health problems especially in infants and older adults. CDC recommends dressing in loose-fitting, tightly woven clothing.

  • Manage stress. "That's something I think we can all use," Gentle said with a laugh. He said part of managing stress is knowing when to ask for help.

  • Travel safely. Planning is key when traveling. CDC suggests keeping a cell phone with you. Before leaving in an automobile, remember to check the heating system. Make sure to have adequate clothing for wintertime (see No. 2).

    "It's very important in terms of health at this time of year," Gentle said.

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