June 7, 2023

  • When we were visiting friends in London, my daughter had an asthma attack brought on by allergies.
  • My friends helped me navigate the UK health system and we ended up in the emergency room.
  • Our visit was friendly and incredibly efficient.

My daughter has allergy-induced asthma. This means that sometimes when around an allergen, every breath is characterized by a wheezing sound.

He has a rescue inhaler for these episodes. Two quick puffs and her breathing returns to normal.

Just before our trip to London to visit friends, her inhaler broke. I asked the pediatrician for a new one. The pediatrician said I would have to bring her into the office the next time she wheezed if I wanted a refill. I didn’t want to wait for an episode. I said what I needed was not a refill because the broken inhaler still had doses. The argument went in useless circles.

We went to London without an inhaler. My daughter has very few asthma attacks in a given year and the risk was almost non-existent.

Of course, it wasn’t.

The friends we were visiting had a dog and an allergy pill wasn’t enough to control her symptoms. My daughter had an allergy-induced asthma attack in London — on Easter Sunday.

I called her pediatrician back in the US

My first step was to call my pediatrician in America. I left a message on voicemail and never got a call back.

Our friends in London helped us navigate the UK medical system, which at first seemed more complicated than the US system. Doctors are general practitioners, pharmacists are chemists, and urgent care centers are not so easy to find.

We called the only pediatric urgent care center in the area — closed for the holidays. We called all the private doctors who completed our Google search — they also closed. The only option was the one I hoped to avoid: the emergency room.

I am familiar with emergency rooms in the US. During my husband’s battle with brain cancer, we visited them often. There are a few constants – the endless forms, the long wait for tests, results and treatment, and the cost.

We ended up in the ER

My daughter and I took a taxi to the emergency room, known in London as ‘accident and emergency’, or A&E. The receptionist took our names, asked my daughter’s age, and had me write my home address on a sheet of paper she pulled from a notebook.

After a few minutes of waiting in a brightly colored room, we were brought into an exam room. A nurse asked us questions and examined my daughter. The doctor looked at the photo I had taken of my daughter’s inhaler, which had the name of her medication and how many doses were left when it stopped working.

At this point, her breathing had returned to normal. I knew this reprieve would be short-lived and that the moment we got back to the dog, he would be wheezing again. I prepared myself for another argument with medical professionals. No argument came. Even though they didn’t hear wheezing, they believed me and my daughter and agreed she needed an inhaler.

She was being watched. At one point, a nurse brought her a chocolate Easter egg so she wouldn’t starve.

We left A&E, inhaler in hand, after an hour. It wasn’t until we were standing on the sidewalk that I realized how different the experience was. There were no clipboards piled high with forms, no unnecessary tests. They had even given her a snack.

Every moment of our ER visit was efficient, patient friendly and completely unlike any other ER experience I have had.

For the rest of the trip, my daughter used her inhaler as directed, avoided the dog as much as possible, and enjoyed the trip of a lifetime.

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