Join the debate. Vote Now on the Dear Abby Poll of the week.

by Abigail Van Buren

Access to Daughters Is Denied as Punishment for Grandparents

DEAR ABBY: I work in the emergency department of a hospital. Based on our daily observations, my co-workers and I compiled a short list of commonsense guidelines to help the public understand how an emergency department really works.

1. An "emergency" is defined as a life-threatening injury or illness. The average wait in an ER waiting room is 4 1/2 hours. After checking in, you will be seen by a triage nurse to determine the seriousness of your illness or injury. Patients who are considered "critical" will be treated first.

2. Please do not come to the ER with your entire family unless they, too, are sick or injured. People with communicable diseases may be sitting in the lobby, so you could be putting your loved ones at risk.

3. Once inside the examination room, the patient's blood will be taken and tests may be done. Getting test results can take time, especially if the ER is busy -- and no, you cannot eat or drink until those test results are back.

4. The ER discharges patients 24 hours a day, so plan accordingly. The hospital is not responsible for paying for your ride home, and you cannot stay in the exam room waiting for a ride to come for you. We must use the room for the next patient.

5. Above all, remember that our staff is here to help you feel better, not to inconvenience you. You are the patient -- so please be patient. -- ER NURSE IN FLORIDA

DEAR ER NURSE: Your comments are certainly worth space in my column. With so many people out of work and uninsured, I am sure that hospital emergency departments have been swamped with more people seeking help than ever. They need to know what to expect, and your guidelines are helpful. Thank you for sharing them.