When an Emergency Is Just an Urgent Matter, Take Care

When a loved one relates an emergency room experience, the words are often punctuated with sighs and eye-rolls. It’s typical to sit for hours in the waiting room, and the frustration, coupled with the pain of whatever situation brought them there in the first place, can make for an unforgettably bad day.

I’ve been to the ER three times, but only once for a true emergency. If I had known then what I know now, I would have opted to instead go to an urgent-care center for the other two visits. Here’s why.

My Worst ER Experience

During my freshman year of college, I was heading back to my dorm after an on-campus show when I tripped on my pants. (Go ahead and laugh; it’s okay.) Thanks to my supreme clumsiness, I didn’t even succeed in lifting my hands to catch myself, and I faceplanted hard into a brick Boston street.

A friend stopped to help me up and gingerly escorted me to my dorm. He had been on his way out to a club with some friends, so once I was safely inside, I proceeded alone to my room to get some ice. I felt fine — my nose and face hurt, but not as much as my pride, and I wasn’t dizzy. But as soon as I walked in, my roommates panicked. One held up a mirror, and I could see my nose was sliced up and starting to turn purple. Despite my protests, my makeshift family put me in a taxi and piled in behind me, and we sped along to the ER.

Despite the apparently startling condition of my face, it took more than four hours before I was seen. Two of my roommates fell asleep in their chairs; the third headed back to the dorm to sleep because she had an 8 a.m. exam. When I was finally called in, all the clinician did was prod my face, tell me what I already knew (diagnosis: minor lacerations and contusions), clean me up, and give me some ibuprofen. Interspersed with this process were insistent questions of whether I’d been drinking or taking drugs. I hadn’t, and I was hurt by the repeated inquiry.

The only good thing about that night was the demonstrated kindness and understanding of my friends.

So, Why Urgent Care?

Ever since, I’ve gone to urgent care or a retail clinic when I’m confident the injury or illness isn’t truly serious, and each of these experiences has been infinitely better than that night in the ER. The clinics near my home are consistently able to see me quickly, and the doctors and nurse practitioners are kind, respectful, and effective. An urgent-care physician even correctly diagnosed an allergy for me when both my primary doctor and a dermatology physician’s assistant had been unsure of the reaction’s cause.

I feel fortunate that I learned this lesson relatively early. Check out this article for a comprehensive review on when to visit the ER versus an urgent-care center.

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