Differences in ER visits between the US and UK of an American mother

  • When we were visiting friends in London, my daughter had an asthma attack caused by allergies.
  • My friends helped me navigate the UK healthcare system and we ended up in the emergency room.
  • Our visit was friendly and incredibly efficient.

My daughter has allergic asthma. This means that sometimes when around an allergen, every breath is marked by wheezing.

She has a rescue inhaler for these episodes. Two quick puffs and his breathing returns to normal.

Shortly before our trip to London to visit friends, his inhaler broke. I asked the pediatrician for a new one. The pediatrician said I had to take her to the office the next time she was wheezing if I wanted a refill. I didn’t want to wait for an episode. I said what I needed was not a refill as the broken inhaler still had doses in it. The argument went in unnecessary circles.

We went to London without an inhaler. My daughter has very few asthma attacks in any given year and the risk seemed almost non-existent.

Of course, that was not the case.

The friends we were visiting had a dog and an allergy pill was not enough to control his symptoms. My daughter had an allergy-induced asthma attack in London on Easter Sunday.

I called his pediatrician in the United States

My first step was to call my pediatrician in America. I left a message on the answering machine and was never called back.

Our friends in London helped us navigate the UK medical system, which initially seemed more complicated than the US system. Doctors are GPs, pharmacists are pharmacists, and urgent care centers aren’t as easy to find.

We called the only pediatric emergency center in the region, closed for the holidays. We called all private doctors who filled out our Google search – also closed. The only option was the one I hoped to avoid: the emergency room.

I know the emergency rooms in the United States. During my husband’s battle with brain cancer, we visited them frequently. There are a few constants – endless forms, long wait times for tests, results and processing, and expense.

We ended up in the emergency room

My daughter and I took a taxi to the emergency room, known in London as “accident and emergency” or A&E. The receptionist took our names, asked my daughter’s age, and made me write my home address on a sheet of paper she tore from a notebook.

After a few minutes of waiting in a brightly colored room, we were ushered into an exam room. A nurse asked us questions and examined my daughter. The doctor looked at the photo I had taken of my daughter’s inhaler, which had the name of her medicine and the number of doses left when it stopped working.

At this point, his breathing had returned to normal. I knew this respite would be short-lived and the minute we got back to the female dog, she would be hissing again. I braced myself for another argument with medical professionals. No argument came. Although they didn’t hear any wheezing, they believed me and my daughter and agreed she needed an inhaler.

They watched her. At one point, a nurse brought her a chocolate Easter egg in case she was hungry.

We walked out of A&E, inhaler in hand, after an hour. It wasn’t until we were on the sidewalk that I realized how different the experience was. There had been no clipboards full of forms, no useless tests. They had even given him a snack.

Every moment of our ER visit was efficient, patient friendly, and radically different from any other ER experience I have had.

For the rest of the trip my daughter used the inhaler as instructed, avoided the dog as much as possible and enjoyed the trip of a lifetime.

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