Your Health
By Michael Warren 

For many people, an emergency room is their introduction to a hospital. Imagine: You are in pain or feel ill; you’ve been waiting for two hours; you wish the crying kids would shut up; you wish your spouse would shut up; you’d just like to take a nap; but, most of all, you wish someone would come to take care of you and make the hurt go away. 

Knowing what is going on and why these people are scurrying around looking frazzled won’t make the hurt (or kids) go away; but it could make your situation a whole lot less frustrating. 

The first person you see should be a medical person and the first question, “What is wrong with you?” or “Why are you here?” There’s a good reason. In an emergency room, the most seriously ill are seen first, so at least you know that, if you are kept waiting, your ailment is not considered too serious. 

Once the triage nurse (“triage” is French for “sorting”) categorizes patients from the most serious to the least serious cases, you will have some idea whether your wait will be lengthy. Knowing what to expect makes it easier to handle. 

No one should question you about such things as method of payment or name of insurance company before you’ve seen a medical team member. If that happens, assert your right to be examined before dealing with anyone else. Only when the triage is complete is it OK for someone to ask about insurance, next of kin and other questions. Humor them; they need it for the records. 

When it’s your turn, a nurse or physician should treat you. Subsequently, you might see one or several individuals, each with his or her expertise. A phlebotomist, who draws blood, an X-ray technician, a social worker, a dietitian or a medical specialist could be called to work on your case. And don’t forget the cashier: Someone has to pay the bill. 

If you’re admitted to the hospital, the endless parade of people continues. More doctors, nurses, technicians, therapists, clerks, orderlies, clergymen, social workers, dietitians and many others, each expertly qualified to provide the treatment and care you need and deserve. If you’re in a teaching hospital, don’t forget the medical students who are trying to learn from your misfortune and who probably look the most frazzled of all. 

Know the identity of everyone who enters your room. Read their ID badges. Know their titles and the kind of work they do. It’s important that you feel secure about all the players: You are the patient and it’s your health that’s at stake. 

Let’s face it. You’re in the hospital. You don’t need anything else to worry about. 

Dr. Michael M. Warren is Ashbel Smith Professor of Surgery in the division of urology at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.