Tips on preparing for a medical emergency during a pandemic
Updated: Oct 23, 2021
No one likes being sick, let alone during a pandemic. Yesterday’s cough could become today’s deadliest infection, with little to no symptoms of the virus lingering within.
This is especially true for those students who suffer from chronic illnesses (diseases or conditions that are persistent throughout the life of the patient in question, with long-lasting health effects) and acute medical emergencies. As COVID-19 alone demonstrates, the risk of a single medical emergency gone untreated transforming into an increasingly more complicated and painful chronic health condition is always present. A vast amount of medical literature has described the debilitating consequences of being a student while coping with a chronic illness: from the physical to the mental, caused by anything from medication to the condition itself, the struggles of being sick and being a student at the same time are multitudinous. In a meta analysis of this literature published in the Journal of School Health, researchers reported that, “Students with chronic illness demonstrate mixed school experiences and outcomes that are often worse than students without chronic illness.”
Viruses don’t discriminate. Even on homogenous campuses like Willamette, accidents can happen and infections will spread. What should a student do if they get sick at such an inopportune time like this? Below is step-by-step guidance on how to navigate the Willamette and greater Salem medical system while prioritizing your health and safety, first and foremost.
Be Preventive and Call Ahead
The Bishop Wellness Center is open for all degree seeking students, regardless of insurance policy, from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM on Monday through Friday. The Center’s offices are located on the first floor of the Baxter dormitories. Due to COVID-19, the Wellness Center offices are only physically accessible on an as-needed basis; mental healthcare such as counseling and physical healthcare such as follow-ups are likely to be hosted confidentially online via Medicat, your personal patient portal platform.
To make an appointment, call the Bishop Wellness Center’s office at (503) 370-6062. Provide your name and the purpose of your appointment. Before calling, it may be helpful to devise a list of what you would like to discuss with a doctor and/or counselor and why you would like to be seen. It’s important that you have a list of the prescribed medications, supplements, or vitamins you are currently taking- this includes the name on the label, the dosage being prescribed, and when you regularly take them. If your situation is urgent or you would like a same-day appointment, it is important to express this in your phone call. The link for your appointment will be sent to your Medicat Patient Portal, along with the date and time of the appointment, all of which will be accessible in your personal Patient Portal messages.
Minor Non-Life Threatening Medical Emergencies
If the Bishop Wellness Center is closed or cannot provide immediate in-person care, Salem Health provides same-day urgent primary care from 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM every day of the week, including the weekends, and accepts Medicare, the Oregon Health Plan, and most private insurances. To make an appointment, call (503) 814-5554. In addition to devising a list of what you would like to discuss, prepare to have your insurance card and social security number on hand before calling. You can also schedule an appointment via MyChart online, if you do not feel comfortable calling. Salem Health Primary Urgent Care is located on 1002 Bellevue Street SE. If you do not have access to transportation or cannot walk, call Campus Security at (503) 370-6911 with the address and a short description of your situation. They will additionally arrange for your pick-up and drop-up.
Major Non-Life Threatening Medical Emergencies
Salem Health provides 24/7 emergency care. If you do not have access to transportation or cannot walk, call Campus Security and provide a short description of your situation and your current location on campus.
Before leaving to meet Campus Security, make sure you prepare to be in the hospital for a substantial amount of time: bring your wallet, Willamette ID, official state or federal ID, insurance card, and, if possible your Social Security number; bring any prescribed medications you have taken or will need to take, including painkillers, antibiotics, or inhalers; bring a sweatshirt in case you become cold, preferably with a pocket for your cell phone and shoes that are easy to take on and off. Do not eat or drink before arriving at the Emergency Room: in the possibility you may have to undergo an operation or take a prescribed medication on an empty stomach, this will protect you from any unwanted side effects.
If you are afraid to go to the hospital alone, you can ask a friend to accompany you. Due to COVID-19, the person accompanying you will have to ride in a separate Campus Security vehicle should you need one and will wait in the Emergency Room waiting room for you once you are admitted.
In the Emergency Room waiting room, you will be seen by two to three triage nurses, medical professionals who will record your vitals and other pertinent information such as your symptoms in order to determine the severity of your condition and how quickly you should be seen by a doctor. Before being admitted, you may be asked to provide your address, insurance and Social Security number for billing purposes.
After being admitted, you may be asked to change into a hospital gown by your nurse. After reviewing your symptoms, they will likely draw blood for laboratory testing and/or connect you to an IV for hydrating fluids: if you have a preference, let the nurse know which arm is best for a needle. The needle may later be used to deliver other medications as your treatment continues, so it is important that you feel comfortable with and prepared for the placement of your IV. If you feel that you would benefit from being seen by a mental health professional or counselor, ask your nurse and they will be able to put in a request to the hospital for you.
Staying Calm and Being Flexible
Large white-tiled waiting rooms, giant sliding doors, and massive overarching systems like insurance and outcare can all seem daunting at first glance - especially when you are already made vulnerable by an illness or medical emergency. It’s important to remember that all these things, as intimidating as they may first appear, are made up of individual people who want to help you heal and recover from the trauma of being sick. There is no anxiety too small: from calling Bishop Wellness to the first time to sitting alone in the ER waiting room, it is valid and understandable to feel overwhelmed and nervous by the prospect of experiencing these emergencies alone. This is why the various counselors, nurse practitioners, surgeons, and triage nurses work everyday to meet your needs, whenever you desperately need them. Asking for help is the first step - and a brave one, too. Don’t be afraid to be honest about the limits of your knowledge, how anxious you are feeling, or what you think you really need: all of these elements are crucial to achieving a full-recovery, something you deserve.