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There’s never a time to ignore warning signs of a medical emergency

There’s never a time to ignore warning signs of a medical emergency
December 3, 2020 Janet Long

There’s never a time to ignore warning signs of a medical emergency

Some alarming statistics have been published since the onset of the COVID pandemic that show a decline in the use of hospital emergency departments. According to the Centers for Disease Control, in the 10 weeks following the declaration of the COVID-19 national emergency, visits to emergency departments declined by 23% for heart attacks, 20% for strokes, and 10% for uncontrolled high blood sugar. Yet the pandemic itself didn’t cause a decline in heart attacks, strokes or uncontrolled high blood sugar. So what happened to the people who needed medical intervention?

The concern is that throughout the pandemic, some people have put off seeking treatment for serious conditions, which could have detrimental implications, including death.

Morris Hospital’s Director of Emergency and Trauma Services Tony Bucki confers that the same trends that have occurred across the country have been apparent locally. During the month of April, Morris Hospital had 43% fewer emergency visits than April 2019. Even seven months into the pandemic, there’s still a notable reduction in emergency room visits.

“Especially last spring, we weren’t seeing as many strokes or heart attacks as we normally do,” says Bucki. “That’s a very good thing if fewer people are having heart attacks and strokes. But if it’s because they’re avoiding coming in for care, that’s not good.”


Medical experts agree that even in the midst of a global pandemic, it’s always important to immediately seek care when symptoms of serious medical conditions occur. According to the American College of emergency Physicians (ACEP), time is critical for many types of medical emergencies, and delays in treatment can have serious consequences.

“We want to reinforce the importance of immediately seeking care for serious conditions,” says Bucki. “You shouldn’t avoid coming to a hospital emergency department because you’re afraid you could get COVID. Between temperature checks, screening questions, mask requirements, negative air pressure capabilities, and stringent cleaning measures, hospitals have more safety measures in place than any public place you’re going to encounter.”


According to ACEP, whether or not we’re in the midst of a pandemic, it’s always essential to know the signs of medical emergencies and take prompt action. While some symptoms may be obvious – serious injuries, deep wounds, choking, unconsciousness, head or spine injuries, or uncontrolled bleeding – there are a number of other symptoms that people too often take a wait-and-see approach. According to ACEP, these symptoms are signs of a medical emergency that require immediate medical attention:

• Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath

• Chest or upper abdominal pain or pressure lasting two minutes or more

• Fainting, sudden dizziness, weakness

• Changes in vision

• Difficulty speaking

• Confusion or changes in mental status, unusual behavior, difficulty walking

• Any sudden or severe pain

• Unusual abdominal pain

• Severe or persistent vomiting or diarrhea

• Coughing or vomiting blood

• Suicidal or homicidal feelings

• Ingestion of a poisonous substance

In addition to the symptoms listed above, ACEP says any significant change from normal behavior can be a sign of a medical emergency in children, including confusion or delirium, decreasing responsiveness or alertness, excessive sleepiness, irritability, seizure, lethargy, or strange or withdrawn behavior. Feeding or eating difficulties can also indicate a medical emergency in children, as well as skin or lips that look blue, purple or gray.

“It’s critically important to know the signs of a medical emergency and to seek immediate care if any of these signs occur,” says Bucki. “No one should ever feel embarrassed or afraid to seek care if they think they could be having a medical emergency.”