Am I Wasting the ER’s Time and Resources?

Charlene Marshall avatar

by Charlene Marshall |

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Emergency room question

younger than 30
As I write this column I am sitting in the uncomfortable chair in our local emergency room (ER) waiting room. This is a chair that I have sat in far too many times, with a familiar visual of nurses moving swiftly around the unit replacing IVs, coupled with the sound of overhead pages and beeping monitors. I say that it is familiar because it feels as though I am in the emergency room or admitted to hospital far too often these days.

This leads me to worry whether or not I overuse the time and resources of our local ER. Some would argue that a medical condition, such as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), which involves the heart and lungs, would warrant visiting the ER whenever something does not feel right. This is especially true when these two organs are crucial for life, and if something goes wrong with their functioning, it can be a matter of life and death within minutes.

So, why do I feel as though I am wasting time and resources of the ER when I come in and need help with the function of my heart and lungs? I think the answer to my question is because I am unsure whether or not this is normal. I do not know many other people, especially young adults, living with rapidly progressing IPF, and thus, I am turning to those reading this column for feedback.

Sometimes I feel as though my visit to the ER is warranted, especially if a symptom arises that feels urgent, meaning it is impacting my breathing or I am feeling excessively short of breath. Other times I go to the ER because I need blood work, blood products, and fluids, or on the opposite end, because I need fluid drained off of my lungs. Sometimes I am called up to the ER due to test results, or I feel as though I have chest pain and am worried about what that could mean for my heart.

These are all situations that I feel warrant a visit to the ER and I personally feel safer as a result of going.

However, there are also situations when I fear that I am just wasting the ER staff’s resources and time, and maybe I should be visiting my family doctor instead. The challenge with this is that if the symptoms I am questioning turn out to be something urgent or life-threatening because they are related to my heart and lung function, I don’t have the luxury of waiting for a doctor’s appointment. Nor can I risk the hours of sitting in a waiting room at a walk-in clinic where they may not be equipped to treat me in the event of a medical emergency.

This is the constant battle I play out in my head: “Based on my symptoms, does this warrant a trip to the ER?” Should I even be having this battle in my mind when I have a life-threatening disease of the lungs, which has also impacted my heart? Where does this worry of wasting the ER’s time and resources come from? If I am feeling unwell, why would I even question whether I should go to the ER for help? These are all questions I try to navigate whenever I have an unusual symptom that I feel needs medical attention.

I suppose in this column I am trying to summarize three different things:

  1. I wish I had more insight into what other patients deem as appropriate for visiting the ER. The reason for my visit today is feeling generally unwell including extreme fatigue, pain in my back and chest, and slight fever. This time I can say with confidence that these symptoms warrant an ER visit because I know my port-of-cath is borderline-infected. (A port-a-cath is a device implanted under the skin through which therapies are administered. I also had unusual fluid draining from my lungs last night at a transplant center that I visit because so many IPF specialists are there. That said, in the future, I don’t know if these symptoms would warrant an ER visit or not.
  2. How to manage the fear: This is a major factor in whether or not I go to the ER, take at-home pain killers, or book a regular doctor’s appointment. What if I overlook a symptom that could lead to a life-threatening event or decline? My only solution I have for this is to trust my gut in how I am feeling.
  3. Why do I feel guilty about using the ER when I have a life-threatening illness? I do not have a solution for this. I think it is just something I am going to have to work through. If anyone feels like this and has some suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

Thank you for reading.


Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News, or its parent company, Bionews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.


Sandy avatar


I sure do feel the same things as you because with IPF, I don't know what to expect will happen next and no doctor knows either. I rely totally on gut feelings. I keep getting bronchitis and just know when I'm up all night trying to breathe, it's time to go. Then they IV me with high doses of prednisone. I say follow your instincts and know that no one is judging you and that we are just as important in ER as anyone else.

Rosendo avatar


My wife has been doing the same thing in the er for the last 3 months. She is waiting for an evaluation for lung transplant but has been hard for her to finish the tests but every time she is in the er she missed some of the tests. It's a struggle for her because she is always admitted to the hospital to stay at least 3 days at the time.

Eric Strayer avatar

Eric Strayer

Guilt, the gift that keeps on giving. I get this. Really.
About 8 months ago I had one of those awful lung biopsies that messed me up big time. I've been cut up a few times but never had such a hard or slow time recovering. So I sat around enduring my "symptoms". Mostly med side effects and that old lack of energy thing. But there was more. My surgical site was really staying quite painful. It would be nothing for some time, then kind of flare up. One evening I got up from the chair to walk to the kitchen and collapsed. Not terribly, but I did go down. So the wife is calling 911, her sister is being helpful and I am flummoxed.

I dreaded what I was headed for. Our apartment is small and it would soon be filled with police, fire fighters and an EMT or two on top of that. In twenty minutes I was looking up at one police officer, two fire fighters with a third in the hall, and two EMTs, exactly as I had anticipated.

One EKG and fifteen minutes of discussion I had to decide whether to take a ride in the ambulance (once again) or have my wife drive me. She drove.

Welcome to ER. I'll skip the details because, well you know. Essentially is was a bit of talk, some scans, more talk, some pain med (Wow! that stuff is getting weirder all the time) and staring at white walls.

Three hours later I am home. What a waste of time. Or was it? What am I worth? How much of a chance should I take. How much is pride? False pride? And so on and so forth.

It just doesn't matter, does it? You don't flip coins. You make, as you say, a gut level decision and go with it come what may.

So the hideous irony is feeling guilty for not being sick enough. Where the hell do such feelings come from? A hodgepodge of learned behaviors trip us up a lot. They trip up everyone I suppose. But we have to go to ER, sit in a familiar chair, look at people coughing and worse, finally go through the routine as I mentioned, and go home and start things all over again. Yep, guilty as charged. Face it, sickness is a nuisance. Let's hope our friends never find out what we are talking about here.


Jim from Baltimore avatar

Jim from Baltimore

Has anyone with IPF or lung cancer (I have both) had or considered havin a lung drained of fluid? My breathing has grown progressively labored, forcing me to sit or lie down, breathing hard for several minutes, after the slightest activity such as shaving, getting dressed, or retrieving a book or newspaper. My pulmonologist at today’s appointment thought he heard indications of fluid in one lung that, if drained, might free up additional room for breathing, which could at least temporarily eas my shortness of breath. An x-ray this afternoon is expected to spot fluid if it is there. I understand that drawing off suf fluid buildup is pretty routine.

Have you had this done. Are there any serious hazards? How long did it help? Thanks in advance for any relevant experience.

Jim from Baltimore
[email protected]

Liz avatar


Thank you for sharing
I have some of the same battles when to go to the Dr or emergency room. Sometimes they do test and send home
Other times i’m scolded about not coming in sooner.

Charlene Marshall avatar

Charlene Marshall

Hi Liz,

Thanks so much for reading my columns and for reaching out via the comments. So sorry to hear you share in this experience -- sometimes it feels like we can't win, doesn't it? Never doubt going in if you feel like you need to, I've resorted to the "better safe than sorry" motto. That is ultimately what the ER is there for. Hang in there and thanks for writing!

Erv Olsen avatar

Erv Olsen

I’m 78 yrs old suffering from IPF. I go to my pulmonary doctor once a year, my family doctor when needed. I have had a heart attack so see my heart doc at least once a year. I have had this for over 5 yrs. Now I’m not 30. You need to go to ER as often as necessary. Hopefully, you will get a transplant. You need to do everything and don’t fall for the nonsense of “everyone is going to die”. You fight like hell. Those ER’s are for everyone and that includes you.

Charlene Marshall avatar

Charlene Marshall

Hi Erv,

Thank you so much for reading my columns and reaching out via the comments. I appreciate your kind words and thoughts; you're right - ERs exist for everyone, including those of us with this horrid disease. Wishing you well and thanks for taking the time to read and connect with my column.
Take care,

Pat avatar


My husband was diagnosed with IPF November 2021 since then his health had ups and downs a year and 4 months later it’s seems to progress faster, He’s is terrified to go to ER thinking He won’t never get out of there alive and also afraid to get any other virus. I would like to take him to ER because his has a massive back pain and he feels really hot inside; if any of you had feel this symptoms what would you do? A really need an advice, Thank you!!


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