Swine Flu: When not to go to the ER

I know people who go to the doctor for every little thing imaginable, and some truly imagined, I happen to be related to one, by marriage so I’m not really “related” related. It’s as distressing as it is embarrassing. But what’s more distressing are the people who go to the Emergency Room for “every little thing”.

Admittedly, I’m one of those who does not go the doctor until I have no choice and I would rather cut off a minor body part than go to the emergency room. Those like me are as equally distressing to the medical community as the first group, just for different reasons.

In between the two extremes are the normal people: the rational people, the people who understand what a doctor is there to provide and what an ER is there to provide – and there is never any confusion between the two or aversion to one or another – or both in my case.

But what if one suspects an infection of H1N1 2009 [swine flu]? I mean, really – that name – ‘swine flu’ is alarming in and of itself. It’s “alien”; it’s not “human”. However, most people who become infected with H1N1 2009 suffer only mild – very mild – illness. For most, those who do not fall into the “at risk” categories of having chronic medical conditions such as diabetes or asthma, or pregnant or obese – or any combination thereof, this pandemic virus seems to cause lesser symptoms than our seasonally circulating [“human”; “mundane”] influenza that we face year in and year out. But, still, it’s frightening – this “swine flu”.

The Associate Press, via FoxNews, has a suggestion for us if we suspect we are infected, one that, admittedly, resonates with my general medical philosophy [avoid it like the proverbial plague]:

Sick? Stay Home: Emergency Rooms May Be Ground Zero for H1N1 [Excerpt]

Sit for hours amid the sneezing in an emergency room this fall, and if you didn’t arrive with swine flu you just might leave with it.

Fearing swamped ERs, the government is working with worried doctors to develop hot lines or interactive Web sites to help the flu-riddled decide when they really need a hospital — and when to stay home.

With flu season rapidly approaching, the plans aren’t finished yet, and it’s too soon to know how many people could access such programs.

But, “we are working on triage systems so people will have good information about, ‘What will I need to do?’” Dr. Anne Schuchat of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told state health officials last week.

Every winter, crowded emergency rooms are flooded with hacking sufferers of the regular flu. When swine flu appeared last spring, ERs in New York and other hard-hit areas had a similar surge — and most visits were by the mildly ill, not those in real danger. More ominous, both types of flu are expected to spread widely this fall and winter.

“There’s a clear sense that we can’t afford a repetition of the spring experience all over the country,” says ER specialist Dr. Arthur Kellerman of Atlanta’s Emory University, who has pushed the government planning and praises what he calls “an unprecedented partnership” to create the tools in time.

“You can’t drop millions, much less tens of millions of Americans, into that system willy-nilly because they want to play it safe and get checked,” Kellerman said. “The play-it-safe strategy may be to stay home.”

The goal is one-on-one interactions, either with nurses or with sophisticated technology, for a customized assessment of whether someone’s symptoms and medical history put them at low or high risk for flu complications.

At low risk? Stay home. At low risk? The advice is to stay home, rest and stay hydrated. Doctors don’t want you sneezing on the guy with chest pain or the kid with the broken arm or the immune-weakened chemotherapy patient while you wait for that message in person.

“You could wait 18 hours to see me and I’ll tell you, ‘Please go home and go to bed,’” Kellerman warning.

So, if you wake up one morning thinking you may have “swine flu” but you only feel crappy and you are not a member of the “at risk” gang – stay home, rest, stay hydrated. Leave the ER to those who have an emergency. Remember, just because something sounds “scary” doesn’t mean that it is necessarily life threatening, or even in need of someone with a medical degree to tell you to do those things.

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