What to Expect From An Unexpected Emergency Room Trip


Falling off of a bike may or may not require a visit to the hospital

It is a sunny weekend and your kids are outside playing in the driveway. The next second, you hear the dreaded cry and the call for “Mooooom!” Your little one fell off her bike and hurt her ankle. You are immediately worried because she cannot place any weight on it. The ankle also appears concerning. Thinking about a trip to the emergency room (ER) can be frightening and anxiety provoking. This is particularly true if you have never had to go yourself or for your child.

The first tip families should know is that it is important to take your children to a facility that specializes in children. The most important thing in a true emergency is which hospital is closest. If you have time to think about it, then keep that in mind. You want to be at a children’s hospital. These hospitals have the specialists, nurses, doctors, and other staff that are specially trained in dealing with children. Children are definitely not small adults and must be treated like the special individuals they are.

Checking in to the ER

When you get to the Emergency Room, you will check in at the front desk. You will need to show your ID and your child’s insurance card. This is how the hospital officially registers your child. Then you wait. How busy the ER is and how sick your little one is will determine how long it takes for you to be triaged.

Triage for your child

Triage is the first point of care for your child. There is a triage nurse that will take your child’s vital signs. This will be the first time you go into detail about what happened. The nurse, who is experienced in quickly assessing severity of illness, will decide where your child gets place in the queue. Please note that if your child arrives by ambulance, they are assessed as soon as they come in. Then the same determination is made. If your child comes in by ambulance and also happens to be having a life threatening emergency, it is called in ahead of time so your child will be met by the medical team as soon as they come to the ER.

It is important to have a good team in the ER on your side

Waiting time in the Emergency Room

So you have been triaged, and now what? The severity of illness of those ahead of you compared to how sick your child is will dictate how long your wait is. The ER can be frustrating as you’re waiting because it is definitely not “first come, first served.” You might watch families who came after you be called back before your family is. When you are called back to the room, a different nurse than the triage nurse will come in.

In the room where it happens

The nurse will likely do another set of vitals. Next, they will ask you some basic questions about your child’s history, medications, and allergies. They will ask you again to recount what happened. If needed, the nurse may bring your child medication such as for nausea or pain. Then, the doctor or other provider such as a physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner will come in to get more information from you. It will feel like you have told your story so many times by now. They will listen to what brought you in and then examine your child.

The work-up

Following the previous steps, the doctors might be able to make a diagnosis, or your child may require something like x-rays, an ultrasound, lab work, or stitches. Any imaging will require a wait. Then the radiologist, the doctor who specializes in interpreting them, will need to read it. If there is lab work done, there is a wait for the lab to process the results. Then, whoever is providing care for your child needs to interpret the results. Also, remember everything is done and processed on how urgently it needs to get done, based on how sick your child is.

The final plan

After all of those things happen, a plan is made for your child. The plan includes going over what has been done. If there are any prescriptions needed, they must then be prescribed to the pharmacy of your choice. In pediatrics, all medications are weight-based, so extra care must be made to calculate the dosage. Finally, everything is prepared to send your child home safely. It might seem like it took a long journey to get there. However, there is so much that goes on behind the scenes. Always plan to follow up with your child’s pediatrician after an ER visit. This is helpful to see if your child is progressing well and getting better.

Have you taken your child to the Emergency Room? Share your experience below!

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Tamara Gayle Blackwood, MD, MEd is a board-certified pediatric physician. Prior to medical school her passion for education led her to complete the Teach for America program, serving as a high school biology teacher in the Bronx. She completed her Master’s in Education at Pace University in New York City, NY. Following her time in the Bronx, she completed her MD at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine in Miami, FL. Dr. Gayle Blackwood stayed in Miami for her residency training completing her training at Jackson Memorial Hospital. After her residency Dr. Gayle Blackwood went on to pursue a Hospital Medicine Fellowship at Children’s National in Washington, DC. During her fellowship training she was awarded a grant as a RAPID Scholar to research food insecurity and asthma in disadvantaged Black children. Dr. Gayle Blackwood is currently pursuing a Master’s in Public Health at George Washington University. She is on faculty at Children’s National Hospital as an attending in the Hospital Medicine Division and an Assistant Professor through George Washington University. Dr. Gayle Blackwood lives with her husband in Northeast DC and enjoys cooking, traveling, and volunteering in her community. She also has virtual classes for expecting parents to teach them everything they need to know to feel ready for their newborn. You can follow her on instagram @realtalkwithdrtam.