Have you ever found yourself in an emergency situation? Did it seem like everything was falling apart and the sky was falling down? What did you do? How did you resolve it? Did you assume that you had literally hit rock bottom and your life was coming to an end? What happened next? Did you die? Did you survive? You most likely made it out alive didn’t you? Most of the events we categorize as emergencies are usually not quite emergencies. An emergency is defined as ‘a serious, unexpected, and often dangerous situation requiring immediate action.’ Even if the situation is unexpected, dangerous and serious you most likely will survive if immediate action is not taken. The sooner we start to de-escalate situations from being classified as emergencies, the sooner we can reduce our stress levels.
Often times when unexpected negative occurrences happen it can be easy to overreact, to panic, to worry, to assume that it is indeed an emergency and devastating consequences will happen if we do not do something right away. However, often times when unexpected negative occurrences occur immediate action is usually out of our control. Last week I accompanied a friend to the Accidents and Emergencies (A&E) section of a hospital because they were having issues with their eyes. When we rushed in, my friend leaning on me for support, and raced up to the reception counter, a calm seemingly disinterested professional asked us one question and followed with simple instructions. The question was, “What’s wrong?” Then she simply asked us to “please pick a number.”
We ended up waiting in the A&E for 4 hours before we saw a doctor, then another 45 minutes before a second and final consultation. All in all we sat there for about 5 hours watching and waiting. We walked in there with an eye emergency that needed checking out and walked out tired and hungry but perfectly fine. The Accidents and Emergencies section of the hospital works on a numbers system. If you are not bleeding on the floor then you do not need to be rushed into an operating room – it’s simply not that urgent. Therefore you pick a number and settle in till your emergency can be seen to. The long wait certainly provides perspective on what is indeed a serious situation requiring immediate action.
I do not even think the Accidents and Emergencies section is where people with time-sensitive emergencies are taken – i.e. heart attacks, internal bleeding, external bleeding, etc. In A&E there is nothing that makes your emergency more urgent than the next person’s. They simply ask each person to pick a number and your case gets treated by the next available doctor in order of arrival. Your number is called when it’s called and then and only then do you get to explain what the emergency is, followed by the administering of the appropriate treatment.
Of course there are life and death situations that require immediate action and swift responses, however these are few and far between. Many of our emergencies can and should be de-escalated by us so that we don’t inherit high blood pressure alongside whatever problematic situation already exists. People in the emergency room typically calmed down somewhere between running through the sliding doors, racing to the counter, being assigned a number and hearing the loudspeaker call a number that was significantly far away from the one they had just picked. Many ended up chatting, playing games on their phone, eating a snack or drinking a cup of tea from the elderly food cart lady who rolled by every 20 minutes.
Everyone who had come to see a doctor that day had one thing in common – they had an ailment they had personally categorized as an emergency and ended up de-escalating the emergency by themselves once they realized the time between arrival and treatment was indefinite. Besides, the whiteboard clearly stated wait times were between four and six hours so pacing, throwing tantrums or fainting would produce no results. They all had something else in common, not one of the people who came to A&E that day died. Thank God! I’m sure this was no surprise to the medical professionals either, they knew the symptoms did not exactly denote a time-sensitive emergency that required immediate attention.
Likewise the unexpected situations that appear to demand immediate action will likely not be the death of us. Especially if they are not even health related. Stressing one’s self is bad for the body anyway, so even if it is health related, it is in our best interest to take a deep breath and calm down. Take the time to reflect on other ‘emergencies.’ Think of a time when it truly appeared as if the worst had come to stay yet somehow you made it through. Probably not with the resources or control you desired. Therefore you will probably make it through this too.
We owe it to ourselves to push back against the anxiety, fear, frustration and panic that rises when unexpected negative change occurs. We owe it to ourselves to take a step back and categorize where the occurrence fits into our existing priorities and to do lists and how immediate the actions that need to be taken really are. We need to determine whether there is really anything within our control that we can do to make the situation better, if there is let’s just do it and if there isn’t let’s just calm down. We think better when we are calm and will have a greater sense of clarity. We need to be realistic, to breathe and to stop. We need to be willing to wait a few hours, a few days or a few weeks with the understanding that if immediate action cannot be taken we will survive so we need to pick a number, say a prayer, prioritize actions and relax.