Vacation Destination: Anywhere But the Emergency Department
By the Emergency Nurses Association

This summer, millions of Americans will hit the road to unwind with their families. Vacations may be relaxing, but being too lax when it comes to your safety can land you in a place you won’t want to send a postcard from – the hospital ER.

“Vacations are a time to put your feet up and take it easy, but overlooking simple safety measures can quickly put an end to that,” says Emergency Nurses Association President Diane Gurney, a registered nurse. “In a new environment, or when you’re doing new and different activities, there are risks you may not have thought of because you don’t encounter them everyday."

This year, the Emergency Nurses Association (ENA) is urging everyone to take simple precautions to ensure that their vacations are healthy and memorable, by following these safety tips:

 1. Getting to your destination. If you’re driving, make sure the car is packed in such a way that no items will go flying if you get in a minor accident. Young children should be in car seats, and seatbelt and speed limit laws should always be followed. Take adequate breaks to rest if you’re driving a long distance.

2. At the hotel or rental home.  These places should be baby-proofed just like your own home. Be sure to check for trip hazards and put things children could accidentally ingest in a safe place out of their reach. Window screens can give way if children lean on them, so ensure that windows are securely shut. Bring along a basic first-aid kit.

3.  In crowded places.  Make sure children have identifying information with them in case they get separated from you. “Put a tag on their shoe or something in their pocket,” says RN Deena Brecher, of Wilmington, Delaware. “Take a picture of your child with your camera so if they do get lost you have a picture of what they were wearing that day.”

4.  Outdoors, around water.  There should always be a lifeguard on duty when you’re swimming. Read all the signs and follow the posted rules. Even if a child is old enough to swim without a parent, she or he should always use the “buddy system” and be in the water with at least one other. Wear flotation devices on boats, or in any type of water if you’re not a strong swimmer.

5.  Other outdoor activities. Always wear sunscreen, and reapply during the day. Avoid heavy meals at lunch, wear breathable clothing and appropriate shoes, and stay hydrated. Ideally, outdoor activities should be scheduled during cooler parts of the day – before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m. wear a helmet and reflective clothing when engaged in any activity on wheels, like bicycling or rollerblading. Always ride bikes in the same direction as traffic, but jog against traffic, staying aware of drivers’ blind spots. Children should not ride ATVs, Brecher says. “They’re not appropriate for kids. They’re very dangerous.”

If you do have to visit the Emergency Department:
1.      If possible, research the Emergency Departments or walk-in clinics in before you go. Those located in seasonal vacation destinations may only be open part of the year. Find out where they’re located and what their capabilities are. Some Emergency Departments may also list estimated wait times on their websites.

 2.  Bring an extra copy of family members' medical records along with you. “We tend to trust parents as far as their child’s vaccine history goes,” Brecher says, “but if they have any medical problems, especially complicated things, it’s always good to take a copy of their medical records with you.” If your child or a senior has seen more than one doctor or specialist, be sure to have phone numbers for all of them.

3. Know the allergies of the people you are traveling with. Have a list of medications and the dosages of each medication they take.

4. If your child is with a relative or another adult, make sure they know how to reach you. Emergency Departments need consent from a parent or guardian to treat a child, so you should be accessible by phone or have gone through the proper steps to give someone else the power to make medical decisions.

Founded in 1970 and currently celebrating its 40th anniversary, ENA serves as the voice of 37,000 members and their patients through research, publications, professional development, injury prevention and patient education.  Additional information is available at ENA’s website

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