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Ask an Expert: 4 Ways To Manage a Medical Crisis

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September 11, 2017

A friend of mine is an Emergency Room trauma nurse who frequently tells us about her work. Having dealt with many difficult situations, she has developed an exceptionally calm and straight forward manner. I recently asked her this question: “If you could tell parents headed to the ER one thing, what would it be?” Her answer was helpful, and made me reconsider how I handle difficult situations in general.

Hannah pointed out that virtually everyone who steps through the doors of the emergency room is in crisis. They have become their most instinctive selves, which makes them primarily concerned about their own agenda. Parents, for example, tend to focus on how much they need their child to be okay—versus making the child okay. The difference is subtle. It comes down to focus. Who should take priority, the worried parent or the injured child?

I’ll be honest. As I listened to my friend talk about her frustrations in juggling these two conflicting needs, I knew that if something terrible happened to one of my kids, I’d likely be the me-focused parent. So I asked her to describe parents who handle emergency situations well.

1. They concentrate on what’s outside of them.

Parents who manage the ER well pay attention to the details of what is happening to their child. They take in the facts of their child’s case, the possible solutions, and the complications. The chaos of emotions boiling inside is set-aside until a more appropriate time.

2. They wait a beat to make a decision.

Calm is hard to come by in the ER. A parent handling the situation well gives herself a few beats of time to absorb new information or react emotionally. Intentionally giving yourself a response time cushion equips you to make better choices.

3. They put themselves in the shoes of the patient.

The question “What would my child want?” can help you focus so you can be most helpful to your child. You may have the impulse to hold your son close, but this might hurt or even injure him further. You might be tempted to yell at the hospital staff out of frustration, but would that make your child feel better? This is a time to put your feelings aside and focus on what is best for your child. If you appear calm, strong, and confident in the professionals around you, your child will feel safer and more relaxed, too.

4. They remember that the doctors and nurses are sworn to serve the patient as their top priority and trust them to do so.

The medical professionals in the ER can make judgment calls free from the emotional entanglements we experience as parents. While it is hard to feel that anyone can care for your child as much or well as you, a medical emergency is a time when you need to rely on people with the experience and objectivity to help you make the best decisions.

I hope to avoid the day when this information comes in handy, and I hope you have the good fortune to side-step it, too. But if and when my kids face an emergency, I want to be my most effective self—for their sake as well as mine.

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