When Ben was 4 years old, he loved to play Batman. He'd put on his Batman pajamas
and pretend to fly all over the house. But one night, just before bedtime, he tried
to "fly" from one end of his bed to the other. Ben missed his mark and ended up banging
his elbow hard on the wood floor. Ouch!
His mom put ice on it, but his elbow got really puffy (swollen) and he had trouble
moving his arm. "Batman," she said, "We're going to the emergency room."
When you need help right away, the best place to go is the nearest hospital emergency
room. Also called the ER, this place is open 24 hours a day and there is a lot of
activity going on. Nurses and doctors are there all day and night to care for medical
problems that need quick attention. At a children's hospital, the ER will be just
Getting to the ER
Your parents might take you to the ER in their car, but if you need to get there
really fast, they will call 911 to get you an ambulance. Ambulances bring kids to
the ER quickly and have trained people to help you during the ride. Their sirens clear
a path through traffic by warning other cars to get out of the way. If you got to
the ER in a car, you will probably see a few ambulances parked outside the emergency
If you are not too sick and there is time to pack, you may want to talk to your
parent about packing a bag with your favorite books, crayons, toy, or stuffed animal.
What Happens First?
When you go into an ER, the first thing you or your parent will usually do is sign
in at a front desk. This is a way of letting the emergency room staff know that you
are there and what your problem is. If your medical problem needs super-fast attention,
you may be taken right in to see a doctor.
If not, the next step is seeing a triage (say: TREE-ahzh) nurse. This nurse makes
sure that the sickest people get to see the doctors first.
If you have to wait a while, you'll probably do it in the waiting area. The waiting
room may have toys, books, magazines, computers, and a TV to keep you busy until an
exam room is ready or until you get an X-ray.
The triage nurse might tell you not to eat or drink until you see the doctor.
When it's your turn, someone will call your name and guide you to an examining
room. There, you may have to wait a little bit longer for the doctor.
An ER exam room has a bed for you and a chair where your mom or dad can sit and
keep you company. Some of these rooms may have something that looks like a small TV
screen. That's a monitor used to keep an eye on a person's heartbeat and breathing.
You also might see an oxygen tank and tubing for people who need help breathing.
You may notice other equipment, too. But just because a piece of equipment is in your
exam room, it doesn't mean you will need to use it. This equipment is there, just
in case, to meet the needs of the many people (which may include adults) who come
to the ER for treatment.
When the doctor arrives, he or she will talk to you and your parents about your
medical problem and examine you. At this point, the doctor will decide what should
happen next. In Ben's case, he needed an X-ray. The X-ray showed that he had a broken
arm and needed a cast.
Other kids might need different tests, such as blood tests or urine (pee) tests.
Sometimes kids need fluids or medicine through an intravenous catheter, also called
an IV. An IV is a thin plastic tube that is inserted into a vein so you can get the
medicine or fluids you need to feel better.
Most kids go home after the doctor figures out what the medical problem is and
decides how to treat it. You may be given some medicine while in the ER or a prescription
for medicine that your parent can pick up at your local pharmacy.
Sometimes, the doctor decides to admit someone to the hospital,
which means staying overnight. This may sound scary, but your mom or dad can stay
with you and keep you company.
Some hospitals have child life specialists. These are specially trained people
who can help you deal with any stress or pain you may be having and they can use models
or drawings to help explain any procedures you might have. They have great suggestions
to help you get your mind off things if you are getting really worried while you are
in the ER.
What Happens at the End of the ER Visit?
If, as in most cases, you are going home, the ER doctor might tell you to "follow
up" with your regular doctor. This means to visit your regular doctor soon so he or
she can see that you're doing better and answer any questions that you or your
parents may have.
If you got stitches or a cast,
the ER doctor will tell you how long it will be before they can be removed.
ER doctors and nurses may use words that are new to you. Here's what some of them
admitted: to stay in the hospital overnight
discharged: to be sent home from the hospital
triage: a process that helps doctors see the sickest patients
chart: a paper that contains information about you (like your
temperature, heart rate, and treatment plan). Most of the time now, all of this information
is recorded in the computer and saved.
injection: a shot
IV: intravenous catheter, which is a thin plastic tube inserted
into your vein to give you medicine
papoose: a soft board with Velcro straps that is used to keep
arms and legs still so doctors can put in stitches or take care of an injury without
you moving around too much