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Panicky Parents Make ER Their First Choice

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As I was watching ``The Secret Lives of Dentists,'' a new movie starring Campbell Scott that explores the fissures in a 10-year marriage, I was caught up in how much the average couple could relate to this tale of everyday life.

While the husband and wife are going through a crisis in their marriage, they must still deal with their three young daughters and the daily routine that dictates.

The routine disintegrates when the dreaded round-robin flu shows up in one of the children and eventually hops to each family member.

The husband takes the first infected daughter to the doctor, who cross-examines him about the stresses in the family, strongly implying that the stomach the girl has could be a repository for her anxieties about the state of her parents' marriage.

He sticks with this point of view even when the harried father calls to report yet another child vomiting, and even when one of the children is running a high fever that prompts the father to race to the emergency room.

Can the flu kill you?'' the dad screams into the phone as he cross-examines a nurse.I just want to know what to do.''

How many times has a frustrated parent felt this way?

Here is a medical professional (Scott's character is a dentist) as helpless as anyone, and getting no calming response from the nurse/receptionist on the other end of the line.

``Is she lethargic?'' the nurse asks.

``She's sleeping!'' the distraught father yells.

In desperation, he finally bundles her up, shoves her into the car, and races to the hospital.

What's going on here? Are parents under stress not hearing the measured inquiries of their health-care provider, or are medical offices so under siege that those who answer the phone can be of only limited help?

A little of both, says Dr. Steven Krug, a professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University, and head of the Division of Emergency Medicine at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

``The scenario you describe is sadly not uncommon. We are seeing more patients/parents during the weekday hours, when doctor's offices are open, who are choosing the ER over their doctor's office, either because they could not get an appointment in a timely manner for an acute illness or injury, or because they were concerned about their child and couldn't get to speak with someone in the doctor's office in a timely enough manner.''

He said that some offices have established call-in hours at times that nurses and doctors have more availability, and that others have even begun to charge for phone advice to discourage unnecessary callers.

Still, Krug urges parents to try to contact their child's doctor first, before running off to the emergency room where, incidentally, waits can take several hours.

In short, there is no easy answer. Maybe stocking up on Dr. Spock's renowned advice books or other books dealing with childhood illnesses and emergencies might help a harried parent feel more in control. Or shop around until you find a doctor who doesn't make the ER look like a good alternative.


(The Cox web site is at )

c.2003 Cox News Service

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