During Covid-19 Pandemic, it’s Especially Important to Know When To Go To the ER

As an emergency physician, I want to thank people for continuing to practice the mitigating strategies of social distancing, staying at home and socially isolating during this COVID-19 pandemic.

It appears to be working even in some of the hardest hit areas around the country. However, while we all continue to try to flatten the curve, there are still non-COVID 19 emergencies that need to be seen and taken care of in the ER.

Unfortunately, just like during any other time, people continue to have accidents, heart attacks, and strokes. It still continues to be critical to get help and treatment for these emergencies in a timely manner so as not prevent further damage or complications.

The typical warning signs and symptoms of what constitutes a life or limb threatening emergency are as follows:

  • Bleeding that will not stop
  • Breathing problems (difficulty breathing, shortness of breath)
  • Change in mental status (such as unusual behavior, confusion, difficulty arousing)
  • Chest Pain
  • Choking
  • Coughing up blood or vomiting blood
  • Fainting or loss of consciousness
  • Feeling suicidal or feeling homicidal
  • Head or spine injury
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Injury due to a serious motor vehicle accident, burns or smoke inhalation, near drowning, deep or large wound or other serious injuries
  • Sudden, severe pain anywhere in the body
  • Sudden dizziness, sudden muscle or general weakness, sudden change in vision
  • Ingestion of a poisonous substance
  • Severe abdominal pain or pressure

My emergency medicine colleagues, and I are worried because many of us are seeing patients that are waiting too long to come in and be seen for one of these emergency conditions. And we are taking care of more serious life-threatening complications that could have been prevented with earlier intervention. We understand that you may be afraid to come to the ER seeing all these patients on the news with COVID-19. But emergency physicians want you to know that like always, we will continue to keep you safe when you come to the ER.

Even before this pandemic we understood the concept of practicing medicine with universal precautions and respiratory transmission precautions to stop the spread of all infections. Our specialty excels at keeping our potentially infectious patients away from those who are not.

Now during this coronavirus pandemic, we are even more sensitive to this. Many of our emergency departments especially in the hardest hit areas have triage tents setup outside of our departments to quickly assess patients and move our infectious COVID-19 patients to separate areas keeping them away from our non-COVID-19 emergencies.

The emergency department may look a little different with the protective gear and new protocols, but it is still the best, and often only, place to get care in an emergency. So, if you are having a medical emergency don’t be afraid to come in and be treated. Please don’t wait—it’s a matter of life and death.

Dr. Leigh Vinocur is an emergency physician in the Baltimore suburbs

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