There’s nothing quite as terrifying for a parent as the moment when you realize you need to take your child to the emergency room. No one ever wants to make that trip, but most parents do it at least once — for a broken bone, a spiked fever, or just based on that gut parenting instinct.
Here are a few things you can do, even before the need for the visit, to help you stay calm and make the ER experience as painless as possible for you and your child.
1. Have your child’s health information ready to go
Prepare a list of your child’s health information long before you ever have to make that ER visit. This list might include allergy information, dates of previous vaccines, current medications, and any previous surgeries your child has undergone.
Another preparation tip is to figure out which children’s hospitals work with your insurance providers. Keep this information on your fridge and in your phone notes. Going to an insurance-approved location could save you a lot of money in the long run.
2. Call your pediatrician first
A call to your pediatrician (or the nurse line for outside of business hours) could help you decide if an emergency room visit is necessary. And if the doctor or nurse agrees a visit is warranted, they can call ahead and make sure the hospital knows to expect you.
3. Don’t hesitate to call an ambulance
In a true emergency, when immediate care is the number one priority, call an ambulance. Don’t hesitate to do this if your child is unconscious, unresponsive, or has trouble breathing.
Other signs you may need an ambulance include:
- a convulsion that doesn’t stop after 3-5 minutes
- a broken bone that’s sticking out through the skin
- an accident that causes you to suspect an injury to the child’s neck or spine
- severe burns
Be aware that many ambulances won’t divert to a requested hospital. They’re generally mandated to transfer to the nearest one.
4. Stay calm, at least on the outside
This is obviously easier said than done, but children can . When heading to the emergency room, your child will be subjected to new faces and various tests, some of which can be painful. If you can keep your cool, it will help them keep theirs, too.
5. Skip the refreshments
Until you know what kind of tests the doctor might be ordering, avoid giving your child any food or beverages. This is true for any case when your child may need to be sedated. If your child has eaten recently, it could mean a longer wait until that sedation can occur.
6. Bring some form of entertainment
Despite the name, emergency rooms often involve a fair amount of waiting. Consider bringing your child’s favorite stuffed animal. A book or iPad can help keep them occupied and distracted from the wait, illness, or pain.
7. Take notes before, during, and after the visit
While you’re waiting, it’s a good idea to jot down the events that led to your visit. Do this on your phone, if you have the juice, or request a piece of paper and a pen from the receptionist.
Create a chronological list of the events to keep your thoughts organized when you finally see a doctor. It’s not at all uncommon to feel flustered in a situation like this.
8. Don’t be afraid to ask for backup
Plenty of single parents make that solo ER trip, and you can too — if you have to. But if possible, see if a family member or friend can join you. It’s helpful to have someone else there to serve as an extra set of eyes and ears. They can help capture any important information you may forget during your rush.
Letting a friend or family member know ahead of time that you may call them for support in case of an emergency can also help relieve any stress that may come with the situation.
9. Know your rights as a parent
Not only will staying with your child help them remain calm, but it’s your right as their guardian to remain with them at all times. The hospital should also ensure that the right doctor reviews your child’s test results.
If your child needs to stay overnight, ask the doctor for a written discharge plan. This will help identify what extra tests your doctor may order so there are no surprises on the final bill. Other finer details may depend on the state where you live. Visit your state’s department of health website for more information.
10. Be your child’s advocate
You know your child best. If you feel as though an ER doctor is brushing off your concerns or rushing you out the door, don’t be afraid to push for a second opinion. If your gut is telling you that something more concerning is going on, there’s probably a reason for that.
Try to ask questions and share your concerns at the right time. It’s important for you to maintain a positive working relationship with your child’s medical team. Asking while the nurse is getting your child’s stats may not be the best timing. But having your notes can help!
A visit to the ER is never fun for anyone. It can be especially grueling for a worried parent. But getting the best care for your little one is ultimately the best thing you can do. It won’t be enjoyable or easy, but you can get through the stress of an ER visit with your kiddo. Being prepared helps.
Leah Campbell is a writer and editor living in Anchorage, Alaska. A single mother by choice after a serendipitous series of events led to the adoption of her daughter, Leah is also author of the book “” and has written extensively on the topics of infertility, adoption and parenting. You can connect with Leah at her on Twitter (), and .