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Don’t ignore other serious medical emergencies, or chronic health issues, due to fears of coronavirus [Commentary]

What should you do when you have a medical emergency during this pandemic? You should get help as you always would: by calling either your physician or 911. These days, there is so much information out there about COVID-19. However, let us not forget about the other non-coronavirus emergencies and illnesses that are still happening throughout our community. They should not take a back seat to COVID.

Unfortunately, people are delaying the care they need within the hospital due to fear of “catching” the new coronavirus.

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Dr. Fermin Barrueto, is the Chief Medical Officer and COVID-19 Incident Commander for University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health.
Dr. Fermin Barrueto, is the Chief Medical Officer and COVID-19 Incident Commander for University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health. (Courtesy Upper Chesapeake Health)

As chief medical officer at University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health and the incident commander for our local COVID response, I am very concerned about the reduction in the number of patients we are seeing in our emergency rooms and those who have delayed getting timely care due to their fears of COVID. As an experienced emergency care physician, I can tell you this is a dangerous trend, especially for time-critical medical issues like heart attack and stroke. The longer you wait, the harder it is to successfully intervene and save your life.

“Time is brain” and “time is muscle” — for strokes and heart attacks, respectively. If you have chest pain, do not delay in calling 911. For stroke awareness, remember the acronym FAST: Facial Drooping, Arm Weakness, Speech Difficulty then Time to call 911. These are the signs of stroke or transient ischemic attack or “mini-stroke."

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What are other symptoms you should not ignore? Allergic reactions, head or eye injuries, serious burns, high fevers, drug overdoses or poisoning, or wounds that are getting worse. If you experience these symptoms, seek medical treatment right away.

Hospitals remain safe places to come for care. Yes, we continue to have strict requirements for visitors (no visitors in most cases), masking, social distancing and even temperature checks for our team members. These measures are not in place to scare you — but to protect our staff and patients with all types of ailments. You should also know that we have infection prevention measures that allow us to safely care for those patients with and without COVID.

If you are unwell or struggling with chronic illness like diabetes, congestive heart failure or COPD, for example, many of our physicians and specialists are offering telemedicine options for patients. It is important to stay connected with your doctor.

Now, more than ever, Emergency Departments are the nation’s safety nets. If you have an emergency, stay-at-home orders do not apply to you. We want you to be safe and abide by the governor’s stay-at-home orders but not be COVID-phobic and delay care when it matters. Our EDs will never close our doors to anyone who needs care. We are here for you. We are in this together.

The author is the chief medical officer and COVID-19 Incident Commander for University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health.

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