Not only do you have a sick or injured child who's scared -- but you're probably freaking out yourself. Here are 20 ways to take control, stay calm, and get topnotch care.
1. Pick a child-friendly ER. "Children's hospitals and hospitals with pediatric ERs have specialists on staff 24-7," says Louis C. Hampers, MD, medical director of the emergency department at the Children's Hospital, in Denver. They also have child-size equipment, specialists to help reduce anxiety and pain, and toys to entertain your child. Before your child gets sick or hurt, talk to his doctor about where you will go in an emergency.
2. Call your pediatrician before you go. The doctor's office will help you decide whether your child needs to get to the ER right away or can be treated in the office. If the doctor agrees that you should go to the hospital, he can call ahead to say you're coming.
3. Try to keep your cool. Take a few deep breaths, and tell yourself that you need to stay calm for your child's sake. Don't let your mind jump to a scary diagnosis until you have all the facts. "If you're worried or upset, your child will pick up on your emotions and become even more distressed," Dr. Hampers says.
4. Bring your child's health history. In a small notebook, keep an up-to-date record of her previous illnesses, immunizations, allergies, chronic conditions, and any medications that she's taking (know when she took her last dose). Always keep it with you in your purse or diaper bag, or grab it on your way out the door to the hospital. And make sure that your child's health-insurance card is in your wallet at all times.
5. Go ahead and treat his fever. "Some parents think they shouldn't give their child a fever reducer before going to the ER because the doctor won't believe that he's really sick, but that's not the case," Dr. Hampers says. "It often makes the examination process a lot easier because the child feels better and we don't have to wait 45 minutes for the ibuprofen to kick in."
6. Leave siblings at home, if possible. "You need to be able to devote your full attention to your sick or injured child," says Robert Luten, MD, professor of pediatrics and emergency medicine at the University of Florida Health Science Center, in Jacksonville.
7. Prepare for a wait. Patients receive treatment based on how sick they are, not in the order they arrive. Bring your child's lovey and a quiet toy. "If you've been waiting and are concerned your child is getting sicker, you should ask to have her reassessed," says Cheryl Jackson, MD, medical director of the pediatric emergency department at University of North Carolina Health Care, in Chapel Hill.
8. Stay by her side. The ER can be a frightening place, and your presence will comfort your child. "Studies show that when parents remain in the room during exams and procedures it reduces the level of stress both for children and parents," says Leslie Zun, MD, chairman of the emergency-medicine department at Mount Sinai Hospital and Children's Hospital, in Chicago. Of course, if you feel as if you might pass out while your child is getting poked or sewn up, let the nurse or doctor know.
9. Hold off on food and drink. A full stomach can delay the doctor's ability to operate on or sedate your child. "Sometimes we have to sedate kids for routine procedures, such as CT scans and blood tests," Dr. Hampers says.
10. Tell your child what to expect. Let him know that a doctor (not his regular one) will examine him and, depending on what's wrong, either clean his cut, take x-rays, or run special tests. "For many kids, the anxiety about what's going to happen is worse than the actual pain," says Dr. Zun.