What COPD Patients Should Expect From an ER Visit
Sometimes people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) delay a needed trip to an emergency room due to fear of the unknown. To ease this fear, I’ve decided to take you on a journey through a typical emergency room, introducing you to all the people you may meet along the way. Ready? Let’s go
First thing you’ll see after entering the emergency room is the smile of the front desk clerk. She asks you your name, will take your insurance card, ask you to fill out some paperwork, and walks you over to triage without asking any further questions. However, you may have to wait for a bit before being admitted, depending on the hospital and how many other people are waiting.
The nurse here will take your vitals, heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure, temperature, and oxygen saturation. She then assesses you to determine what level of care you should receive, and then takes you to your emergency room bed.
There’s nothing luxurious about a hospital bed, although it’s clean and means help is on the way. You will be handed a gown, of which you can slip on yourself, or a nurse can help. Most modern ER rooms come with TV (there is a cable fee that will be charged to your hospital room if you activate it) and Wi-Fi. Pass the time by watching your favorite show or playing on your electronic device. You may also read a book or just sit back and relax.
A nurse enters your room. He or she might hook you up to a monitor to see what your heart is doing. He or she will probably also slip a small probe on your finger to check your oxygen level. He or she will pull a stethoscope out and listen to your lung sounds (take a deep breath!). He or she will ask you questions: How long have you been sick? Do you have any chest pain? Have you observed edema on your legs or ankles? What medicines do you take? Have you ever been to an ER before? Then he or she will say, "The doctor will be here soon!"
IV & EKG
While waiting for the doctor, the nurse wastes no time and hooks you up with an intravenous line (an IV). This is often necessary so the nurse can quickly and painlessly give you any antibiotic medicine the doctor orders. Also at this time a technician may do an EKG (electrocardiogram) to give the doctor a good idea of what your heart is up to. This procedure takes only a few minutes, is painless, and is done as you lie in bed.
Emergency Room Physician
The doctor arrives and shakes your hand. "So, what can I help you with today?" he or she says, even though he or she can probably already tell you are having trouble breathing. After you’re done telling your story, he or she listens to your lungs with a stethoscope, and palpates your neck, abdomen, and ankles. The doctor then most likely says, "I’m going to order some tests to help us determine why you’re having trouble breathing. In the meantime, I’m going to have the nurse give you some medicine, and our respiratory therapist will give you a breathing treatment. These medicines should help you feel better."
Another smiling professional enters your room with a nebulizer and a tiny vial of albuterol, or other inhaled medicine. After introducing themselves, a vial is opened and the medicine is squeezed into the neb. Turning it on, a white mist billows from the mouthpiece. The respitartor therapist says, "Put this into your mouth, clip it between your teeth, and breathe normal." You do as instructed, and within a few minutes your breathing may be easier.
Another friendly face enters your room and says, "Hi, I’m from the lab. Your doctor wants me to draw your blood. These test results will help the doctor determine how best to help you." This may not require a needle poke if you have a peripheral IV already set up.
The nurse now returns with a needleless syringe. "The doctor has ordered for me to give you a steroid shot, and I’ll just slip it into your IV. This will help reduce inflammation in your lungs to help you breathe better."The nurse gives you the medicine swiftly and painlessly.
Most often the medicine the doctor prescribes will help you get better within a few short hours, and the doctor will discharge you home. If you get to go home, you’ll be given some really informative discharge instructions, and the nurse will wheel you out to your vehicle. However, sometimes the doctor may have to work some more magic to get you feeling better, and this will require you to stay in the hospital a while longer. If this is the course of action for you, a hospitalist will visit you.
Another doctor now enters your room and cordially introduces themselves. He or she assesses you and asks you some questions. He or she then explains what the plan of action is for you once you are admitted. Once the hospitalist leaves the room, a nurse wheels you and your entire bed up to your new room.
The earlier you seek help during a COPD flare-up, the easier it will be for a physician to get you feeling better. Knowing you will be treated with grace and dignity by your health care provider should help you make a swift and easy decision to have someone drive you to the nearest emergency room, or call 911.
John Bottrell is a registered Respiratory Therapist. He wrote for HealthCentral as a health professional for Asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).