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Every ostomate had the experience of dealing with a medical condition, illness or traumatic injury that lead to the creation of their stoma. During my pre-ostomy days I saw many doctors for various treatments and tests, but the most traumatic medical encounter I’ve had took place in the Emergency Room. I was a novice and knew nothing about how an ER worked or what to expect. Many years later and numerous trips to hospital, I've learned a lot about the emergency department, but it was painful every step of the way!

What do we really know about emergency care?

Every year U.S. News & World Report distributes their well-publicized list of top-ranked hospitals in America by specialty. Unfortunately, the list of 16 specialties does not include Emergency Services. You have to look long and hard to find a similar list for hospital emergency rooms. They do exist though, two examples being “Healthgrades 2012 Emergency Medicine in American Hospitals” and the “Women’s Choice Awards.”

These studies analyzed the most common conditions treated, mortality rates and wait times for various medical emergency services. Much of their information comes from patient surveys and Medicare. They emphasize planning ahead in order to maximize your chances for a satisfactory outcome. However, the very nature of the word “emergency” means the visit is not planned. And for many, like myself, an ostomy is not our only medical condition. There could be several medical emergencies that require us to go to the ER.

So how can ostomates best prepare for an emergency room visit?

From my own experience, most errors at hospitals begin in the emergency room. That’s why I’ve organized a kit with the following items to take with me to an ER:

  1. At least a 3-day stock of ostomy supplies.
  2. Product name and item numbers for ostomy supplies I’m currently using.
  3. A list of information about myself that includes: a complete medical history, type of ostomy, current medications, an immunization history, a list of allergies, insurance policy ID and phone number, the name and phone number of an emergency contact person.
  4. Contact information for all doctors and ostomy nurses treating you, and for which medical conditions.
  5. Photo ID.
  6. For ileostomy blockages, take the “Ileostomy Blockage Treatment Card” that’s available from United Ostomy Associations of America website.
  7. A pad of paper and pen.

All of the above means you were able to communicate when you got to the ER.

What happens when you arrive unconscious, or conscious but not able to speak?

In that situation, the ER staff will not know you or your medical history. For these types of emergencies, medical ID’s can (literally) be a lifesaver for all ages and medical conditions. There are a variety of medical ID’s available to patients which range from vinyl bands to metal bracelets and necklaces. The information provided is up to the individual, but what should be considered are emergency contacts, blood type, and medical conditions. Additionally, some manufacturers of medical ID’s such as Road ID provide vital information about your profile accessible by phone or internet.

Remember, you are your best advocate in the emergency room. Make sure you know which nurse and doctor are responsible for your care. Don’t be shy about asking questions on what’s being done and why, and make sure that their treatment plan makes sense to you. The more information you can give to first responders and the ER staff, the better you’ll enhance their ability to treat you quickly and effectively.

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