20 Things Patients Can Do to Stay Out of the ER

20 Things Patients Can Do to Stay Out of the ER

I’m an ER doc. I care for patients. All sorts of patients: Those who need to be in the ER, those who don’t, and those who wouldn’t be there if they knew better.

I thought I’d share some of the things my patients taught me. Here’s the first score.

1. Never, ever say “hold my beer and watch this!” These are the most dangerous words ever spoken (besides “I do”). They are synonymous with “epic failure”. There are T-shirts sporting these exact words. They have their own section on YouTube. Don’t go there. Just hold on to your own beer. It’s safer.

2. NEVER drink and drive. I know it’s obvious, but it’s obviously not obvious enough. Twenty-nine U.S. drivers die each day from drinking and driving. Even worse, they kill or maim innocent victims. Don’t do it. Make a choice. Do one or the other, never both. (Same with drugs.)

3. When you’re arguing, do NOT tell your significant other that your life is no longer worth living just to make them feel bad. If they call 911, EMS will bring you to me. I’ll keep you until you’re legally sober, even if it takes a week. I’ll sedate you or tie you down if I have to. Afterwards, you’ll get a mental health evaluation, and we’ll let you go home. By that time, your significant other has thoroughly enjoyed life without you. Speak wisely.

4. Shoveling the roof is seriously overrated. The most broken heels I’ve ever seen at once occurred shortly after a winter storm. Broken backs too. You are human. You belong on the ground.

5. Your motorcycle, the one you love? I love them too, but I sold mine after I saw my first MCA patient. He came by ambulance while his leg followed in another car. I plan to get another motorcycle as soon as I get diagnosed with terminal cancer. Until then, I’ll stick with my car. Cars aren’t your thing? At least wear a helmet and protection gear.

6. Do not, I repeat, do not, stick your hand in your snowblower to clean it. You may never be able to play the guitar again, or even tie your shoes. That’s why they made Velcro, you say. True, but fingers are useful for many other things, some of them delightful.

7. If you’re a smoker and you’ve been coughing for a week, don’t come to see me unless you have a fever, are short of breath, have chest pain, or can’t afford to buy honey. Your bronchitis will last for at least 3 weeks. There’s nothing I can do to stop that unless I kill you. That will stop your cough but it’s illegal.

8. Your 12-years-of-God-awful-back-pain? Unless something has recently changed, the ED is not the place for it. Now that Percocet has become a 4-letter word, even less so. You’ll wait for hours to get a script for ibuprofen — 800 mg every 6 hrs — or acetaminophen — 1000 mg every 6hrs. That’s Motrin and Tylenol. Not worth your time or your copay. Go get them over the counter.

9. If you have an appointment with your doctor at 1, please, please don’t cancel it to come to the ED at noon because you’re too sick to go and see your doctor. That’s what your doctor’s there for — to cure you when you’re sick. If he can’t help you, he’ll send you over. Keep your appointments.

10. Don’t separate fighting dogs with your bare hands. Dogs can handle dog bites much better than you can — remember they used to be wolves? You and I used to be monkeys. We don’t belong in their league. Stay out of it or use a prop.

11. Don’t throw gasoline on an open flame unless you want a really thorough Brazilian wax.

12. NEVER EVER stand around minding your own business, it’s one of the most dangerous things known to man. Ninety-percent of my assault victims were doing just that.

13. Sunday church is dangerous. That’s where half of my syncopal patients come from. They go to church, they faint, they fall, they break a hip. Pubs are safer.

14. Get off Dr. Google. He’ll drive you insane worrying about improbable things that you can’t even pronounce, let alone understand, and he won’t even give you a work note.

15. If you’ve already seen a specialist for this, coming to the ED for a second opinion is unlikely to help you. I specialize in first opinions.

16. Use condoms. Always. Unless you are actively trying to reproduce. They are cheaper than medications and much cheaper than alimony.

17. Get a flu shot. It’s better than the flu. It won’t give you the flu — the reason you got the flu last time you got a flu shot is that they both happen in the same season. Flu season.

18. If you need a walker to walk, please don’t climb a ladder.

19. Turn off your oxygen tank before lighting up. Even better, stop smoking.

20. Take your meds as prescribed. Your seizure meds, your blood pressure meds, all your other meds. Except for other people’s meds. Don’t take other people’s meds. Not even if they’re the same color.

Here’s to a safe, happy and healthy you. Now, if you’ll hold my beer…

Special thanks to my Facebook friends and to my EM DOCS friends for their help. Some of these suggestions come from them.


Dr. Rada Jones is an emergency physician. She practices in Upstate New York where she lives with her husband, Steve, her GSD Gypsy Rose Lee, and a deaf black cat named Paxil. She’s about to finish her first novel, “Overdose, an ER Thriller,” where a lot of people die in unnatural but exciting ways. Find more at RadaJonesMD.com, on Instagram RadaJonesMD, and Twitter @JonesRada.