ER Nightmares by
(289 Stories)

Prompted By The ER

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We all know the ER is not a great place to end up when you are sick. Especially since COVID-19 and staff shortages, moving from the waiting room to being seen can take hours. People also have less access to primary care physicians, forcing them to seek help in ERs. Walk-in Clinics are closed at night and now, at least in my area, require appointments and don’t really manage serious medical problems. Also, many medical crises (at least for me) happen late at night or on weekends.

If only George Clooney were waiting to treat me at the ER, perhaps the trip would be worth all of the wait and inconvenience.

In the middle of a weekend night several months ago, I woke up covered with hives and painful itching. My husband agreed we needed to go to the ER to procure some relief. Bet you didn’t know you could “shop” ERs. Instead of going to our usual one, he called to see how long the wait would be — four+ hours. Then he called a hospital in the same medical group that was slightly further away. Only a handful of people were waiting in that ER, so off we went with me worrying about being hospitalized there. Of course, they proclaimed most cases of hives are never explained (true), gave me a huge dose of steroids, and sent me home.

I remember my mother-in-law and mother being taken to the ER for things like dehydration that could have been managed elsewhere. If there was a serious problem, they would often languish in what was an ER holding area, sometimes for days, as the hospital tried to delay officially admitting them. Once admitted to the hospital, a three-day stay would entitle them to rehab or nursing home care under Medicare rules. I’m assuming the hospital was trying to avoid this outcome, but the care was terrible.

My sister-in-law recently had an ER encounter that left her in much worse shape than when she entered. She had a very painful attack of ischemic colitis. My brother drove her to the closest ER where she languished for hours in severe pain until she collapsed and he caught her before she hit the ground. Apparently, this caught the attention of the triage nurse, who moved her into a cubicle. While my brother was filling out forms, leaving her unattended, she attempted to use the bathroom, fell, knocked out her front teeth, and broke her ankle. Needless to say, once they stabilized the original problem, she came home with several more costly and painful issues.

A friend had to return to the hospital in the middle of the night following being discharged hours earlier for a supposedly routine procedure. In all of the chaos of calling 911 and having an ambulance suddenly arrive, she forgot her phone and reading glasses. Of course, she didn’t remember anyone’s phone number — only their old landlines they no longer had. She felt totally helpless until her husband showed up the next morning with her phone and glasses. Another sister-in-law, who is a frequent ER visitor, remembered to bring her phone, but not her charger, for her most recent trip to the ER. When she quickly ran out of power on her phone, she felt equally stranded.

Remember those bags women packed to take to the hospital when they went into labor? After hearing these stories, I resolved to create a checklist for a potential trip to the ER. Of course, my list includes phone, charger, glasses, a book (because I never leave home without one), and a list of the real current meds I take and when I take them. The hospital list is always filled with medications I no longer take. A comfortable nightgown and change of underwear are also nice to have, as well as a hairbrush and my own toothbrush and toothpaste. Often enough, trips to the ER end up with long stays in “no man’s land,” even if a patient is not admitted.

If only George Clooney were waiting to treat me at the ER, perhaps the trip would be worth all of the wait and inconvenience.

Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Characterizations: been there, funny, moving, well written


  1. Sorry to hear those ER nightmares Laurie!
    I certainly didn’t know one could call ahead to learn the wait time!

    I do know first hand the difference between big-city ERs and ones in the country. I had occasion recently to be in an ER in our Connecticut town and had no wait, a private room as opposed to a narrow bay behind a curtain, state of the art medical equipment, and first rate care. Quite different from some visits I’ve had to New York’s Mt Sinai Hospital where cops and firemen were constantly in and out with gunshot victims among other patients!

  2. Laurie:
    Your stories confirm my hesitation for taking a trip to the ER. They are a terrible, but often, catalogue of the problems you mentioned long waits, bungled care, and eventually leave in a worse condition. I should put your post on my refrigerator door to remind me of the dangers and the preparation I take when going to the ER.

  3. Laurie: You might have added taking snacks to your list, or even take out. My wife and daughter regularly brought me food. The smell of curry filled my room,. Nurses told me the smell wafted into the hallways. Some appreciated this, others were annoyed.

  4. pattyv says:

    Laurie, in this county we only have two hospitals to choose from unless you go to Newark. You definitely covered it all. I was so upset about your sister in law who fell. How pathetic. It’s so true today, you can never leave a loved one alone in the hospital, nursing home or rehab. My son’s a nurse with only two hands and no help. He’s completely drained after every shift. I loved your advice about packing a hospital bag, including the necessary essentials. We should all take your advice. Didn’t Clooney age well? Love that pic.

  5. Khati Hendry says:

    These are terrible and sad stories Laurie, and unfortunately not uncommon. So many things that need to be made better. Your “be prepared” makes sense–get prepared for the emergencies that develop from going to the emergency room. Yikes.

  6. Betsy Pfau says:

    Laurie, these are true horror stories and make us all wary of going to the ER. Dan’s many visits have been by ambulance (except for the one in my current story, though that one came after a visit to Urgent Care, so was prescribed), so they take him quickly (I follow in pursuit), so I guess that’s sort of a blessing? Great idea to have a “go bag” at the ready, or a least a list of items, as if you were giving birth.

    And I loved your ending – yes, it would be heaven if Dr. Doug Ross (I remember the name because he was the founder of my first company – I think the writer actually knew him) were there to greet us.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Betsy, you have certainly had your share of hospital/ER stories. Another thing I left out of my story is that it’s better to call 911 than to drive to the ER. They take the ambulence patients right in.

  7. Dave Ventre says:

    Luckily my ER trips have been very few, and only once as a patient (arm broken in three places; bike crash, of course). The most entertaining was waiting with my Dad (who never again failed to wear safety glasses in the shop) in the ER at the Jersey City Medical Center on a Friday night. Hardly anyone there had come by their injuries accidentally.

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