It was a warm, sunny, end-of-summer Tuesday morning when I got the call: “Mom, I don’t know what’s wrong with me. My hands and arms are blue up to my elbows; my feet and legs, too, up to my calves. I’m with my dad; we’re on our way to the emergency room,” my youngest daughter informed me.

In her first week of school, she was wearing new jeans. School faculty thought it could be dye, worn off onto her hands and had sent her to wash them. As the clocked ticked on, so did the blue, engulfing her body.

Fearing she had something wrong with her heart, my 15-year-old was swept away, immediately and without hesitation, to receive an electrocardiogram (EKG). While the test wasn’t able to diagnose the immediate cause, it was able to eliminate any malfunctioning of her heart. Further tests were needed to diagnose her; she had to stay close.

After seven long hours in the ER’s waiting room, we were finally able to have those tests run and see a physician.

Why? How? could it possibly take so long in an emergency room? Was it their fault?

ERs sort patients by (first and foremost) severity and (next) a first come, first serve basis. That’s why we were able to get in so quickly for the EKG.

There were times during the day-long-wait where it was standing room only. Were they all emergencies? Not exactly, and there lies the problem.

At some point in time, people started using their local ER in place of scheduling an appointment with their primary care office or even going to an urgent care; it has become a convenient, all-purpose, one-size-fits-all for medicine.

When should we use the ER, urgent care, make an appointment with a doctor or a provider?

The following is a guideline only. It may not be applicable to you or your situation. When in doubt, go to the ER and always follow-up with your primary care provider.

As a rule of thumb, the emergency room is reserved for life-threatening, serious injuries. In other words, if the situation warrants life-saving measures, go to the ER or call 9-1-1. Some examples may include excessive bleeding that won’t stop, severe burns and severely broken bones, signs of stroke (confusion, change in vision, weakness or trouble talking), signs of heart attack (chest pain, shortness of breath, pain or discomfort in arms, back or jaw, trouble breathing or faintness) and seizures.

The great thing about urgent care is they are typically open after hours, weekends and holidays. Their purpose is for urgent needs but not life-threatening. Some examples may include minor, broken bones, sprains and strains; eye injuries; infections, such as strep, ear, bladder and others; skin rashes; minor cuts and burns; and cold/flu symptoms.

Your primary care office is usually open within working hours, e.g., Mon-Fri, 8 a.m. -5 p.m., some offer later hours.

Most minor illnesses or injuries should wait until your primary care provider can assess your needs. If you have concerns or questions, most offices have after-hours, on-call services and can guide you.

Remember, the best care is preventive care. Scheduling annual check-ups can help to keep you healthy.

Staying out of the ER when it’s not life-threatening saves precious time and, quite possibly, even a life. What if it were your life or that of your loved one.

In my daughter’s case, her dad did call her primary care provider. She told him to get her to the ER immediately.

My daughter was diagnosed with Raynaud’s syndrome, a vascular disease or disorder of the blood vessels, causing restriction of blood flow when cold or stressed.

Gina Paradiso is a healthcare educator. She is passionate about service to others and quality patient care. Gina attended Regis University and Colorado State University-Pueblo. She can be reached at