If Not 911, Who?
Part of knowing when to dial 911 is knowing when not to. Strange as it sounds, some people would rather call the rescue squad than their own physician. "We've found that many of the parents who call an ambulance at 3:00 a.m. didn't want to bother their doctor," says Dr. Berns, who is also a pediatric emergency physician. But if your child is screaming in pain in the middle of the night, most pediatricians agree that you should call them. After all, that's their job.
To ease parents' reluctance, some pediatricians are establishing round-the-clock office hours. "There's often a window of time when parents aren't certain what to do, and this is a way to encourage them to ask," says Mark DiDea, M.D., medical director of Kid Care After Hours, an after-hours service at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Women and Children, in Orlando. Parents describe symptoms to a registered nurse and are directed either to call 911, head straight to the ER themselves, or contact their doctor the next day during office hours.
Regardless of how available your doctor is, find out the limits of the office ahead of time: Are they set up to give stitches? Do they handle casts? You should also do your own emergency prepwork: Map the fastest route to the hospital, update your first-aid skills, and familiarize yourself with your insurance carrier's rules. Though I was naive with our daughter (I probably should have called 911), I was also lucky. Our pediatrician was nearby, available, and had the antidote at hand. We got what any parent in an emergency wants -- a happy ending.