nobody’s perfect | When should I get medical help?

Written by Healthy Living News. Posted in February

I spent New Year’s Day in the emergency room.

I had been out and about all during the Christmas holidays and spent a good amount of time outside in extremely cold weather, cleaning off my van, waiting for friends to arrive, or getting picked up. The wind chill those days was below zero. My feet and hands were very cold.


On New Year’s Day, I happened to notice that my small toe on my left foot was bruised and very dark, almost purple/black in color. With all the hype on the local television stations about frostbite, I became concerned. Normally, I would have just considered the deep color a bruise from hitting my toe against my electric cart or the seat in the car. But since I had recently spent some extended times outside in the bitter cold, I grew concerned.

I live with multiple sclerosis and have a compromised immune system. Also, I am getting older! I had to decide if I needed to have my dark toe checked out. I know of people who “felt a little sick” who did not see a healthcare professional and ended up in the hospital with pneumonia, a heart “episode,” or a stroke.

I did not want to go out on this frigid winter day but knew that if there was a chance that I did have frostbite or a broken toe, I would be grateful for being proactive and safe. I decided to leave my warm home and visit the emergency room. If there was anything wrong with my foot, it should be examined sooner than later. So many times people say, “I should have gone to the doctor right away, before this became a bigger problem!”

It turned out I had a severe bruise on my left toe and foot. I was a bit embarrassed that I even went to the emergency room, but what propelled me to go was that I wanted to be proactive with my health. If I did have frostbite or a broken toe, I needed to care for it medically, and I knew I would be to blame if there were any serious problems. So, I went to the emergency room and waited nervously in the examination room for over two hours. During that alone time, I nervously prayed, asking God to let it be nothing major. I also planned which hospital I wanted to be admitted to if they needed to do surgery.

After learning that I had a severe bruise, I was given directions about pain pills and told to see my primary care physician in three days to check my healing. I had peace of mind, and I am glad I went.

It is challenging trying to balance being obsessed with every little ache and pain and going to the doctor for a symptom that might develop into a serious health problem. How do you decide to seek medical help? If you have a cold or the flu, you probably know what to do to treat it. If you have a cut or scrape, you might feel that if over-the-counter pain medications don’t help after a number of days, you need to seek medical care.

At the website, Michael R. Wasserman, MD, Chief Medical Officer, Rockport Healthcare Services, Los Angeles, CA, explains that when you suffer from a cold or flu, you should call your doctor for advice if you have vomiting or are unable to keep fluids down, or if you have painful swallowing, coughing that lasts more than two or three weeks, an earache, or any symptoms that last more than a week.

He also writes, “In general, true emergencies should be handled by calling 911 or the local emergency service to provide ambulance service to the nearest hospital. However, deciding what qualifies as an emergency is sometimes difficult because symptoms vary greatly. Learning as much as possible about symptoms of life-threatening disorders (such as heart attack and stroke) in advance is useful, and good judgment is often required. If the problem seems possibly life threatening, the emergency department is the place to go.”

So when should you go to the emergency room? Dr. Wasserman advises that any of the following warrants an ER visit:

  • Signs of a 
  • Signs of a 
  • Heavy bleeding
  •  that are open, char, or blister the skin; that result from inhalation; that cover a large area; or that are on the hands, face, feet, or genitals
  • Severe injury (as in a motor vehicle accident)
  •  that causes symptoms (if symptoms are minor or do not develop, the poison control center can be called first at 800-222-1222 for advice)
  • Sudden, severe pain anywhere
  • Vomiting blood or coughing up a relatively large amount of blood (more than a few streaks in sputum)
  • Sudden, severe worsening of a serious chronic disorder, such as  or .❦