Being prepared for an extended stay in the emergency department
I'd like to avoid it, but if I can't, these tips help me manage the situation
On the day when I was supposed to be writing this, I was instead sitting on a bed in a hospital emergency department. Though the room was designed for a short stay, I had a full setup around me within hours of being admitted.
To my right were a high-flow oxygen setup, my nighttime ventilator, an IV pole running antibiotics, and a vest machine to help keep my airways clear. These are all necessary due to my pulmonary hypertension. Two wooden chairs for my parents sat in the corner, and there were several bags of belongings and medical supplies from home.
I spent five days there before I was admitted to a floor. After a handful of similar experiences over the past year, we’ve learned that these extended stays in the emergency department are not rare; in fact, they should be expected.
Growing up, getting admitted to a hospital was never an issue. My parents and I would spend a few hours in emergency, and if further care was expected, I was brought to a floor that day. That was standard, and a different experience never crossed my mind.
Now, in 2023, the reality of an overworked healthcare system and limited hospital beds has become common news. Knowing that I’ll continue to face this challenge, I’ve come up with a few proactive steps to help me make the most of an extended stay in an emergency department.
The value of calling ahead
Since I’m a frequent flyer at my hospital and I’m also affiliated with its transplant clinic, I always call my team whenever I’ve made the decision to go through emergency. My team is then able to call the department to let them know I’m coming and what issues I’m dealing with.
That process doesn’t guarantee me anything, but depending on the patient load, it can sometimes allow me to bypass triage and get into a room more quickly. That’s always appreciated given my immunosuppressed status and my oxygen needs.
Pack the essentials
When going to the emergency department, I always pack with the assumption that I’ll have to stay at least one night. It’s thus important that I bring along all of my essential items, including everything from my nighttime ventilator to my pillow and pajamas.
I also like to bring at least a day’s worth of medication, since getting it reconciled with the hospital pharmacy can usually take some time. It’s important that I not miss any doses of my transplant medications.
One thing I always ask for right away in the emergency department is a bedside commode for my room. That’s not ideal, but I never regret it.
For one, the commode allows me to avoid the hallways, which are often busy with sick patients, and the communal bathroom we all share. But it also gives me independence. Since I require oxygen, leaving the room is difficult without a nurse’s assistance. Knowing that staff is spread thin in an emergency department, causing delays in receiving care, I like the freedom a bedside commode gives me, as I don’t have to rely on someone else.
If I’m spending more than one night, I’ll also request that my gurney be replaced with a hospital bed. The staff can’t always accommodate me; in fact, during my recent stay, the staff wasn’t able to switch my beds until my third night. But whenever the option is available, I’ll always accept it.
Protect myself and my space
At my transplant team’s recommendation, I have all emergency staff wear a mask when caring for me. I also wear a mask as much as possible, especially when being transported around the hospital, to avoid any communicable illness. Finally, my family and I keep my door shut at all times in an attempt to further limit my exposure to the full department.
I’ve never looked forward to time in the emergency department. Growing up, I never could have imagined multiple days spent in those tiny, windowless rooms. But now that I’ve endured several extended stays in these departments, I’m grateful to know what to expect and how to survive the experience as best as possible.
Note: Pulmonary Hypertension News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Hypertension News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary hypertension.