It has been a long time since we’ve been together in large groups on Sunday morning for worship at Grace. As we enter Phase 4 of the plan to “Restore Illinois” during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are able to get out a little more, visit with friends outdoors, pick up a cup of coffee at Starbucks (one of my favorite changes). Although the restrictions may still feel onerous, we are beginning to be able to spread out a little more.
When the pandemic began we were encouraged to avoid going to the doctor or the hospital. In fact, many physicians’ offices were not scheduling new appointments and were cancelling previously scheduled appointments. This was, of course, to prevent the spread of the virus to health care workers and to at-risk patients in the office and hospital waiting rooms. And it has seemed to work—here in Illinois we've been able to move to Phase 3 and now to Phase 4.
However, emergency room physicians have noticed a trend that is causing concern. Recent data shows that emergency room visits in general are down, and for strokes and heart attacks they are down significantly. There is also data that shows an increase in emergency visits for late-stage appendicitis and serious infections, which normally would have presented in earlier stages. Most experts agree that there is no reason to believe that heart attacks, strokes, appendicitis and other emergent health issues are suddenly not happening.
It is believed that people are “toughing it out” because they are afraid to go to the hospital — either because they fear being exposed to the virus or do not want to strain the health care system. The stay-at-home strategy is completely appropriate for healthy people wishing to reduce their risk of exposure to infected people or to reduce the risk of being inadvertent asymptomatic spreaders of infection. But that isn’t the correct strategy for someone with a life-threatening medical emergency. Ignoring stroke and cardiac symptoms can put you at higher risk of death or serious problems. See below for a list of symptoms that should send you to the emergency room.
Experts also fear that people are not visiting doctors for management of chronic diseases and/or new symptoms that require evaluation and treatment. Delays in care can mean significant long-term consequences for patients which a visit to the doctor could have prevented. The best thing to do is to contact your physician and decide on a course of action. Most physicians are now doing some office visits and offering telehealth or phone visits. Be aware that there are situations that require a physical examination to appropriately diagnose, so during your telehealth or phone visit be sure to ask the practitioner if a physical exam would provide additional important information. If so request an in -person appointment. Advocate for yourself.
If you have missed an appointment for routine care or screenings, contact your provider to discuss when you should reschedule.
Know When to Go
Keep in mind, these do not represent every kind of sign or symptom that might occur, so if you think you or someone else may be having a medical emergency, call 911 or seek immediate medical care.
Adult Medical Emergency Symptoms
- Difficulty breathing, shortness of breath
- Chest or upper abdominal pain or pressure lasting two minutes or more
- Fainting, sudden dizziness, weakness
- Changes in vision
- Head or spine injury
- Injury due to a serious motor vehicle accident, burns or smoke inhalation, near drowning, deep or large wound or other serious injuries
- Ingestion of a poisonous substance
- Difficulty speaking
- Confusion or changes in mental status, unusual behavior, difficulty waking
- Any sudden or severe pain
- Uncontrolled bleeding
- Severe or persistent vomiting or diarrhea
- Coughing or vomiting blood
- Suicidal or homicidal feelings
- Unusual abdominal pain
From Know When to Go at EmergencyPhysicians.org, the website of the American College of Emergency Physicians