How to survive the ER

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After spending nine hours in the Emergency Department (ED) yesterday, I feel it worthwhile to share with you…

Staying comfortable in the ED with a baby is an art form.

Here are my tips. They will not apply to everyone or every situation, but they have been good for me.


  • Do not feel embarrassed over comments that you have brought a lot.
  • Bring a lot.
    • Bring diapers, wipes, and baby clothes. When you need a diaper you need it right away.
    • Bring food for yourself and food (as needed) for baby.
    • Bring a laptop, iPod or internet phone. I find there is too much noise and baby-comforting to focus on a book and electronics help with this. Magazines are good, too, because baby can play with the pages.
    • Bring chargers for your devices. Five hours of texting updates drains the battery.
    • Bring a handful of toys and comfort objects.
    • Bring a rosary. If you decide to pray, the physicality of this sacramental will keep you grounded. Staying grounded to reality is the way to make it through a panic attack.
    • Bring a shirt, pair of underwear, and pair of socks, just in case your kid is destined for a chopper ride and you cannot take much with you. The hospital you arrive at will have soap and a toothbrush.
    • I have found these items to be essential and even with the emergency that takes you in, it is worth it to gather or have someone gather these for you.
  • Stand by the door after you check in. Protect your baby from whatever other people in the waiting room may be breathing out. Holding your baby’s blanket next to his or her face helps as well.
  • If this is your first time to the ED with your baby try to stop your thoughts from spinning in the I-can’t-believe-I’m-bringing-my-baby-to-the-hospital whirlwind. Focus on the here-and-now.

Getting Settled

  • When you are led to your room, assume you will live here forever. Get comfortable!
    • Use doctor’s stool as a footrest. You can use it. The can get more.
    • The doctor’s stool is also fun to sit on because it rolls and spins. This never gets old.
    • Ask for water.
    • If you are okay with sitting up, ask for a crib. You will rest easier knowing your baby cannot fall out of the bed.
    • If you want the option to lay down with your baby, keep the bed in the room. Line one side of the two-foot wide bed with every bag you have because those rails are useless for a baby.
    • If your baby is a newborn or small, you may be able to keep the bed and ask for a bassinet. At a 2am visit, this would be a great option!
    • Ask to have the pole on the same side you like to sit on so you can stand up and soothe baby without being too tightly tethered.
    • Ask to adjust the lighting.
    • Ask for the location of the call button. You will not always get a tour of the room before they abandon you in it.
  • Know that the ED is in a time warp and time slows, stretching one minute to 30. Do not expect to see the doctor who said he would be right back until at least two hours (your time), (four minutes once he leaves the room).
    • Change positions often. Stand. Sit. Lay down.
    • Ask to use the bathroom. It will not be hard to find someone to stay with your baby because that baby is so cute.
  • Ask for food early, before you are ready to faint. They usually have sandwiches or bizarrely flavored mint pudding or really terrible trays.
    • Ask for water.

Surviving the Hours

  • Be the favorite parent/patient in the ED.
    • Be nice to your nurse. He or she knows where the coffee is.
    • Play fun music so your room is the most cheerful room.
    • Remember your nurse’s name. Use it.
    • Smile if you are able, say please and thank you. If you are emotionally able, expand the compliment to a specific thing the nurse is doing well or that you appreciate. It is good manners. It also helps improve service, as well. You are more likely to get a nurse who lingers if you are pleasant, adding to the opportunity to ask questions or voice concerns you had not thought of during the swift interactions.
  • Assume they will tell you nothing of what they are doing. If they do voluntarily, that is a plus.
    • Ask for what tests the doctors plans to do and how long it will take those tests to result. Otherwise, they may not tell you, depending on the modus operandi of the particular ED and doctor.
    • Write down questions if it is difficult to remember them during the flyby checks.
    • Ask, “Do you really need that much blood?” Labs seem to be known for wanting a luxurious amount to work with. It is unlikely they will put a normal healthy baby at risk, but if you have a baby with special medical needs, hold on to that blood.
    • If you use medical jargon, you will get respect more quickly.
    • Do not hesitate to ask why. Why are you running this test? Why are you not running this test?
  • Know your limits. It hurts to see your baby hurt. You are human, too.
    • You can leave the room if a procedure is too painful to watch. You can stay for any procedure you choose.
    • Keep your mind occupied. Along with the time warp, the numbing quality of the beeps, strange lighting and smallness of the room will make you lose your mind. Approach it as you would solitary confinement.
    • Pray the rosary.
    • I do not know if this was allowed, but the nurse allowed us to step outside the doors where the ambulances pull up. It made all the difference for my morale and patience during the last hour to get some sun and fresh air. This was an option because my baby was not tethered by any tubes and was stable. We were only waiting for transport.
    • Ask for water.
  • Above all, guard your mindset. A three-hour visit to the ED is pretty good. With the time warp, that is like being in and out in an hour, very impressive. It only feels like three hours because it actually is three hours.


It is okay if the distress of what is happening makes it too hard to function, to ask questions, to learn anyone’s name. Do what you can for your baby and yourself. Still murmur those “please and thank you’s” because the staff really is doing all they can. It is okay to leave it to them.

It takes practice and strength to intervene and ask the question. It takes time to develop the strength. It is okay to use all the strength you have to just hold your hurting child. If you have to do this again, likely you will be even stronger, and can take on a little more. With each difficult time, you can grow stronger.

People may tell you are strong, but you feel weak. We start out weak. It is okay to acknowledge that. If you guard your thoughts from the destructive whirlwind, if you talk yourself out of blaming yourself, you will get through this standing. If you leave this experience on your knees, you still got through it. Some times, that is our only comfort. You survived.


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