Be ER Prepared: Children

When the ER is the right place to go, it’s important to know what to expect once you get there. Having this information ahead of time can help make the experience a little less stressful.

In certain situations, you should dial 911 to get an ambulance instead of taking your child to the ER yourself.   Call 911 if your child:

  • is having trouble breathing or is turning blue
  • has been a car accident and your child is unconscious or seriously injured
  • is having a seizure that lasts 3-5 minutes, is having difficulty breathing, or is turning blue
  • loses consciousness or is not responsive
  • might have a neck or spine injury
  • has a head injury with a loss of consciousness, persistent vomiting, or is not responding normally
  • has significant uncontrolled bleeding
  • has a possible poisoning and is not responding normally or having difficulty breathing. In any possible poisoning, call the BC Drug and Poison Information Centre (For poisoning questions or emergencies, call 24 hour hot line at 604-682-5050 or 1-800-567-8911) for expert advice and they may direct you to the ER

Talk with your doctor well ahead of time about what to do — and which ER to go to.  Do this before you’re in a situation where you might need to visit one and it could mean you will experience less anxiety when you actually need to bring your child to the ER. The doctor may direct you to an ER that’s close to you or one in a hospital where he or she regularly sees patients.

Should your child go to an ER at a children’s hospital? Because they’re dedicated to caring for kids, children’s hospitals probably have the most pediatric staff, specialists, and facilities. So if it’s an emergency and a children’s hospital is conveniently located, consider going there.

Otherwise, the community hospital nearest you will provide the medical care needed. If for any reason the hospital isn’t equipped to treat your child’s specific condition, the doctors there will arrange a transfer to a facility that is.

Observe symptoms.  When you go to the ER, it’s important to have a clear description of your child’s symptoms. It’s also important to know your child’s medical history — allergies, past illnesses, injuries, surgeries, immunization history, or chronic conditions.  You also might be asked when your child last had anything to eat or drink.

Prepare a medical history.  Even if you know the medical history by heart, consider writing it down so it’s handy during the chaos of an emergency. And keeping a written record readily available at home will let anyone caring for your child — such as a babysitter — provide it should your child be taken to the ER.

To prepare a medical history, include:

  • medications your child is taking
  • allergies
  • history of previous hospitalizations
  • any previous surgeries
  • illnesses
  • relevant family history
  • immunization history

Keep a list of your child’s doctors, including specialists.  You should know the name and number of your child’s primary care provider.

Bring the poison.  If you go to the ER because your child has ingested a particular medication or household product, bring the container of whatever was ingested. That will help the doctors understand what kind of treatment is required. If your child has swallowed an object, bring an example of that object, if possible.

Write things down.  When you’re in the ER, try to write down important information that you hear. It’s scary and stressful when your child is in the ER, so it can be hard to remember details you may need later, such as:

  • the names of the doctors
  • what they say about the illness or injury
  • any medications or treatment they give your child
  • any directions for follow-up or care at home

If your child is being discharged, make sure you understand the home care instructions and ask questions if you don’t.

Bring comfort items and pleasant distractions.  At any ER, except in the most serious emergencies, be prepared to wait. If you have time before you leave for the emergency room, consider bringing something to do while you wait.  If your child is not too ill, bring things for him or her to do as well, such as crayons, books, toys, and comforting objects, like stuffed animals.  A favourite pillow, pair of pyjamas, or familiar blanket are often welcome.  You might want to bring reading materials or other distractions for yourself.  You may also want to bring pen and paper to write down any questions you have for the doctor.

Ask medical staff about food during ER visit.  Before offering any food or drink to your child, make sure to ask the medical staff if it is OK.  In some situations, your doctor would prefer your child has nothing to eat or drink before being examined / treated.

Bring a toothbrush and toiletries.  If you think there’s a chance that your child might have to be admitted to the hospital, you may want to bring a change of clothes and basic toiletries such as a toothbrush and paste for you and your child.

Ask for help with English.  Most ERs have some language interpretation services or someone who can help translate if you do not speak English fluently.  Consider bringing along a family member or friend who can help you translate.

Try to be understanding. The reality of the ER is that unless you’re dying, you’re going to be treated after someone who is likely much sicker.  That said, ER staff are doing their best to get to you and your child quickly and they will be responsive if you have a reasonable request.

There’s no way to predict how long you’ll have to wait to be seen at the ER. If your child has a severe medical problem, be assured that the doctors will provide whatever attention is needed right away.

Because doctors attend to the most severe injuries and illnesses first, there’s a good chance that if you are there with a minor injury, you’ll have to wait longer. Even if the waiting room is empty, you still may have to wait if the exam rooms are filled or many doctors and nurses are attending to a particularly serious case.

If your child’s condition becomes worse while you are waiting to see a doctor, tell the medical staff.

Help your child understand the ER.  While you wait, there’s a chance that you — and your child — may see some very sick and injured people come into the ER. The sights and sounds of those who are seriously hurt or sick can be frightening. So assure your child that the ER is the best place for the hurt people to be and that this is where the doctors can help them feel better. You might even give an example of a time when someone you know was injured and, as scary as it was at the time, all was fine after the doctor’s care.

Soon after arriving at the ER, your child probably will be seen by a nurse, who will ask about symptoms, check vital signs, and make a quick assessment. This evaluation, also called triage, will prioritize your child’s medical needs based on the severity of his or her condition.

Update your family doctor.  In many cases, the doctor who treats your child in the ER will contact your primary care doctor afterward. If your child is admitted to the hospital, the emergency room doctor will let your doctor know.

Some ERs provide written or computer-generated documentation of the visit and others dictate and fax the report to the primary care doctor. Carry a copy of the papers you receive when your child is discharged to share with your doctor

Some information was sourced from:

ER Report Cards

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