In 2006, a 49-year-old woman complaining of chest pains, nausea and shortness of breath went to the Vista Medical Center Emergency Room in Lake County, Illinois, for evaluation, and two hours later she was found dead of a heart attack, sitting in the waiting room, still waiting for care [source: ABC News]. While that story is horrifying, it's also a rare example of what could happen in an ER. It's a good reminder why each of us needs to be our own advocate.
Patients in the ER are treated based on the severity of their condition when they arrived for treatment. But just because you didn't have a high fever, arm weakness or trouble breathing during your initial evaluation by the triage nurse doesn't mean you haven't developed new symptoms as you've waited for your turn to see the emergency physician. If you feel your symptoms have worsened as you've waited, it's time to speak up. Ask a nurse or another health care worker to take your vital signs again (that's your blood pressure, pulse, respiratory rate and temperature), or talk to the charge nurse about your potentially escalating symptoms.
Advocating for your own care doesn't mean it's OK to be rude, however. Most of us would admit it can be difficult to maintain a healthy level of patience when there's no discernible light at the end of the waiting room tunnel, but remember, it's not only the words you choose. As much as 70 percent of our communication happens nonverbally — it really does matter if you make eye contact or if you roll your eyes [source: Pola-Mondey]. Make an effort to remain calm and friendly, despite how long you have been waiting.