On Triage

Those of you who follow me on Twitter or Facebook might have noticed that I had a bout with food poisoning on Thursday night that landed me in the Emergency Room. I’m feeling much better now, but had an unfortunate experience with triage in the ER.

We had elected not to call an ambulance; my husband drove me to the hospital (with me in the fetal position in the front seat). I walked myself into the ER and told them I was in excruciating stomach pain. They handed me a pager and told me to sit down. By the time my husband parked and walked in, I was back in that fetal position and sobbing from pain. (I don’t cry much; this really freaked him out.)

Somehow, my sobbing from the pain (where everyone else in the waiting room looked much, much healthier) didn’t change my order in the triage queue. The patients were all staring at me and wondering what was going on, but this didn’t seem to phase the nurses.

What happened? Well, I got pushed to a “normal” place in the queue, I believe, for the following reasons:

  • I didn’t arrive in an ambulance.
  • I walked in on my own two feet.
  • I was able to articulate what was wrong with me.
  • I occasionally made jokes, despite the pain (this is how I deal with pain. Weird, yes. I think it’s to make everyone around me feel better).

The Help Desk is one of my departments at work, and I realized that they have to triage as well. It’s very easy for them to mentally dismiss anything stated to them calmly, even though the situation might be much more severe than it looks at first glance. Had I needed my stomach pumped emergently or it was something other than food poisoning, the way I was triaged would have ended with serious health consequences for me. In customer support, you always have to treat the problem as it deserves, rather than according to the way you perceive the person to act. That’s the only way to properly triage anything.

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