emergency-sign

How to Stay Cool in A Medical Crisis

Imagine this: you arrive at the emergency room with your husband, who’s been vomiting blood. Two hours later, you are shown into a curtained area with a bed. After another hour a doctor arrives to ask the same set of questions you’ve answered five or six times already.

If you feel like yelling, hoping someone finally pays attention, try to keep calm. A medical crisis finds us at our worst: worry, exhaustion, frustration with bureaucracy. But getting loud and emotional is not the way to get help for your loved on in a time of need.

A recent study from the University of Florida found that rudeness to doctors has serious negative effects on their performance. In eleven measured areas, doctors did worse on things like diagnosing and communicating if patient families treated them badly. These effects lasted a whole day after a negative encounter.

Jamie Taylor, a principal in Arizona, was recently with her father in the hospital. Before his second surgery, they decided to move to another facility nearby—one of the best in the country. This didn’t go over well with the surgeon. “I apparently offended him and he became very annoyed with me,” Jamie says. The rest of their stay was quite awkward with the doctor on the defensive.

Taylor learned is that hospitals have a way to help patients and families avoid a situation like this. You don’t have to ignore your worries and keep silent. At a hospital, you are assigned a case manager, a sort of advocate to navigate all the complexities of different departments—especially when multiple doctors are involved. You can talk to that case manager to request a different doctor, make a formal complaint, or even talk about needs after you leave the hospital.

In the emergency room, things are a little bit different than during a longer stay or a chronic illness. Here, you’ve got to take the initiative to be in charge of your emotions. This is crucial to getting the best care for you and your loved ones.

  • Focus on facts: details about time and frequency of symptoms are key to successful diagnosis and treatment. If you need to make notes to keep organized, do it.
  • Don’t accuse: ‘I feel frustrated that my husband is in pain and not being helped’ is much less threatening than ‘Why won’t you help us?’ or other similar statement.
  • Breathe: Not just counting to ten with deep breaths, but keep breathing through whatever other sounds are around you. When we worry, we tense up our bodies and fold in. That closes our lungs, makes muscles hurt, and leads down a road of discomfort.
  • Ask for help: call a friend to give you a break from waiting. When a volunteer comes around asking what you need, think of something—a small connection with kindness goes a long way. Use the bathroom, take a walk.