April 2001

Visits to the Emergency room are scary. You can feel totally out of control as the staff take care of you or your family member.

In the Emergency Room with a Stroke

My mother is a healthy 80-year-old who has raised seven children and now lives alone. One morning, she woke up and just did not feel right. She was mostly a little confused and befuddled. She picked up her toothbrush and toothpaste, but could not remember how to use them. That is when she knew something was wrong, and called my brother who lived close by.

I met my brother in the ER worried that my mother may have had a stroke. Three hours later, my mother was lying on an uncomfortable stretcher, unable to remember her children's birthdays.

Concerned that I did not know the plan for my mother, I walked over the nurses' station and asked to talk with her attending doctor (the doctor who is in charge of the patient's care).

By talking with the doctor, I learned about my mother's condition, the reasoning behind her treatment so far, and the plan for her future care. I think my questions helped the physician, too, by prompting him to reexamine his clinical reasoning, to remember that the patient and family were waiting, and to finalize a plan of care.


If you are waiting in an emergency room and wondering what is going on, ask at the nurse's station to speak to your doctor. Questions to ask include:

  • What tests are you going to do and why?
  • How long does it take to get the results?
  • How much longer do I need to stay in the ER?
  • Will I be admitted or go home?

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Check back next month for more Personal Stories.

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