Four things for parents to remember in medical emergencies

May 2, 2012

By University of Wisconsin Hospital & Clinics

MADISON, Wis. — No one wants her child to end up in the emergency room, let alone think about it before it happens. But trained child-life specialists at American Family Children’s Hospital say parents and primary caregivers can make a tough situation a little easier by having a common-sense plan worked out in advance — because the emotion of the situation can make common sense hard to keep in mind.

Child-life specialists are trained in working with stressed-out children going through traumatic medical assessment and treatment in the emergency room. When child-life specialists at a hospital are assigned to a family in a medical crisis, they stay with and comfort the patient and support parents, caregivers and siblings.

The emergency room is the last place kids and families want to be,” said Amanda Roudebush, emergency room child-life specialist. “But having a plan could make a big difference for your child and your family during a very stressful and emotional time.”

Roudebush and her colleagues on the American Family Children’s Hospital child-life team say the following four things should be considered for any medical emergency involving children:

1. Identify the child’s favorite comfort item and bring it with you to the emergency room. It could be a blanket, stuffed animal, pacifier or anything that provides comfort and security.

2. Think about someone who can go to the ER and support you. If you don’t have time to call someone before you go to the ER, child-life specialists can do that for you when you arrive.

3. When you’re with the injured or ill child, try to be as calm as possible. “Kids take their cues from their parents or caregivers,” said child-life specialist Regina Yocum. “When you’re stressed and emotional, they will be, too.”

Yocum said that at the same time, parents have every right to feel upset and emotional. “We don’t expect parents to be stoic robots. They need time and space to be emotional. But we ask parents and loved ones to be as calm and encouraging as possible when they are at the child’s bedside,” Yocum said.

4. Advocate for your child. Parents and primary caregivers know the child best. “We encourage parents and caregivers to speak up and provide information that will help the medical team make quick assessment and begin treatment,” said child-life specialist Amanda Meyer. “You may know that the child can’t take pills or that they respond well to being comforted in some way.”

Dr. Michael Kim, head of pediatric emergency medicine, said even the best advice for coping with a child’s medical emergency can be difficult to remember because of the stress and emotion of the moment.

That’s exactly why our hospital has child-life specialists. You can count on them to support patients, parents, caregivers and families during very challenging and unexpected situations,” Kim said.

From the May 2-8, 2012, issue

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