Emily M. DeArdo


No, Emergency Rooms aren't "first come, first served"

healthEmily DeArdoComment

Time for stories, boys and girls!

Or, really, let me 'splain something to you: How Emergency Rooms Work. 

Emergency rooms are not first come, first served. 

Some people need to be told this. So I'm telling you!

Emergency rooms work on a triage system--meaning, true emergencies go before "emergencies that can wait."

Let me illustrate this. 

If I--a double-lung transplant patient--come into an ER talking about chest pain, irregular heartbeat, fever...
I will get taken back immediately. I will not wait. I will not sit in the waiting room. I will go back and be evaluated post-haste. 

This is because Very Bad Bad Things Could Happen to Me Very Quickly. I could have a pulmonary embolism (PE). I could be having an acute episode of rejection. Many, many things could be going wrong that need fixed tout de suite. 

So, I will never wait. 


But to get to that exalted "I will never wait" point, I have to have a long, long history. 

Now, you in the waiting room--you have brought your kid who is sick. Might have a slight fever. Might have a broken arm. Might have an ear ache, or just feel funny, or be vomiting. Most of those things are not emergencies. (Unless it's a greenstick fracture.) These are things that can wait. So yes, you will see people get taken back before you that don't "look" sick. That doesn't mean they are not. 

If you are in a room in an ER/ED, and you are waiting, I want you to think for a second. You have no idea what is going on in the rest of the department. You don't know if five ambulances just came in with critical patients. You don't know if there are lots of complex cases being dealt with. You have no idea. 

Now, if your kid is getting worse, certainly tell the nurses/staff. But remember, there is worse, and then there is "I'm impatient and I want to go home."

Keep in mind that if your kid is healthy enough to wait, you are lucky

I have been the kid that the entire ER has been working on--or what seemed like the entire ER. It is not fun. If your kid--or you!--are cranky or tired and want to go home, be glad that you are in that position. Because it means that death is not an immediate possibility. 

I have also been the person who's been in the ER, been cleared, and then waited. I know waiting is not fun. But also, it means, I'm not going to die today! Yay! I'm OK enough to go home! Because how many times has that not been the case for me? A lot

So if you are in the ER, and you are tempted to complain because you've been there for six hours, or because the kid in the next room "doesn't look sick", please do not do those things. Please be quiet. And realize that your kid is probably going to be OK. But you have no idea what is going on in the other cubicles and emergency treatment rooms. 


(And also: EDs are not your doctor's office. If you think there is a problem, try an urgent care first. Here is a handy link! )