January 30, 2023

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

My daughter has asthma caused by allergies. This means that sometimes when you’re around an allergen, every breath is marked by a wheeze.

She has an inhaler to save these rings. Two quick inhales and her breathing returns to normal.

Shortly before our trip to London to visit friends, the inhaler broke. I asked the pediatrician for a new one. The pediatrician said I would need to bring her to the office next time she was breathing if I wanted to 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 in it. The debate went in futile circles.

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

Of course, it wasn’t.

The friends we were visiting had a dog, and the allergy pills weren’t enough to control her symptoms. My daughter had an allergic asthma attack in London – on Easter Sunday.

I called a pediatrician in the United States

My first step was to contact a pediatrician in America. I left a message with the answering service and never got a call back.

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

We called the only Urgent Care Center for Children in the area – closed for a holiday. We called all the private doctors who filled out our Google search – and they closed, too. It was the only option I wish I had avoided: the emergency room.

I am familiar with emergency rooms in the United States. During my husband’s battle with brain cancer, we visited them frequently. There are a few constants – infinite shapes, waiting hours for tests, results, treatment, expenses.

We finished in ER

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

After a few minutes of waiting in a brightly colored room, we were brought into the examination room. A nurse asked us questions and examined my daughter. The doctor looked at the picture I took of my daughter’s inhaler, which says the name of the drug and the number of doses left when it stopped working.

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

Watch her. At one point, a nurse brought her a chocolate Easter egg in case she was hungry.

We got out of A&E, inhaler in hand, an hour later. As soon as we were standing on the sidewalk, I realized how different the experience was. There was no portfolio stacked with models, and no unnecessary tests. They even gave her a snack.

Every moment of our emergency room visit was efficient, patient-friendly and completely different from every other emergency room experience I’ve 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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