What is it like to work in the ER on December 25 at The Montreal Children’s Hospital?

For the last three years, Dr. Laurie Plotnick, Medical Director of the Emergency Department at The Montreal Children's Hospital (The Children's), has worked on December 25. One might imagine that the ER would be nearly empty. However, Dr. Plotnick anticipates it will be busy as ever. In recent years, close to 300 sick children have shown up at the ER seeking care.

Dr. Plotnick gives a first-hand account of what it is like to work in the ER on December 25 and offers parents some tips regarding when to treat common childhood ailments at home, when to go to a clinic and when to come to the ER. She also proposes suggestions about what to bring to make the stay in the waiting room more comfortable.

How does the ER try to keep the spirit bright for sick children during the holidays?

We know no one ever wants to be in an ER, but being in the ER on December 25 is particularly disheartening. The team does its best to lighten the mood. Some might wear a Santa or Elf hat or a shirt with a holiday motif. We decorate the ER. And we are very fortunate because Santa never forgets The Children’s. We expect he will drop off a sleigh full of small gifts again this year. Every child or their parent can pick something they’d like. Everyone seems to appreciate our efforts to lighten the mood. 

What types of childhood illnesses do you expect to treat during the holidays?

Over the last six weeks, we have cared for young children with common winter ailments such as colds, gastroenteritis, pneumonia, fevers, bronchiolitis and injuries.

How can parents tell if they should treat their child’s illnesses at home or head to the ER?

Well, on December 25 and other holidays throughout the year, most clinics are closed, so parents have little choice but to turn to The Children’s emergency for care. I always tell parents, if you are worried about your sick child, then come to the ER.

Plus, parents should always head to the ER if their child has, for example:

  • fever in child less than 3 months old
  • unusual sleepiness or confusion
  • trouble breathing
  • vomiting  or diarrhea in baby less than 3 months or unable to keep liquids down
  • signs of dehydration
  • injuries such as
    • head injury with loss of consciousness, confusion or repeated vomiting
    • cuts that may need stitches
    • injury to arm or leg causing swelling or inability to use the limb
    • eye injuries
    • burn that blisters
  • stiff neck and a fever
  • ingested a poison, drug, or unknown substance
  • rash that looks like small or expanding bruises

In general, you can call your child’s primary care provider's office with any questions or non-urgent health concerns. They can help you decide what steps to take and how.

Call for problems such as:

  • fever
  • ear pain
  • sore throat
  • belly pain
  • vomiting or diarrhea
  • headache that doesn't go away
  • possible dehydration
  • rash
  • wheezing
  • lasting cough

I know many families don’t have a pediatrician or family doctor for their child; this is why the DRMG launched One call, One Appointment, a single telephone number that will allow Montreal families to quickly obtain a medical appointment in a designated pediatric clinic for their ill child whose condition does not require a visit to the emergency department: 514-890-6111.

People from outside the island of Montreal can still get an appointment in a designated pediatric clinic online: www.rvsq.gouv.qc.ca.

Parents can find more information at www.thechildren.com.

What should parents bring to the ER to help make waiting easier?

At the top of my list is their phone or iPad charger. While rushing out of the house, many forget to grab the charger.

Don’t forget to bring your Health Insurance card or insurance information. I also encourage parents to bring:

  • Their child’s medication
  • Specialized equipment that is used by their child
  • The specialized formula used by their child
  • Any tubes or devices needed to care for their child
  • Diapers, if applicable
  • Items to occupy their child’s time such as books and toys
  • Snacks for them and their child – however, before the child eats or drinks anything, please ask the ED staff if they are permitted to eat or drink in case they require an empty stomach for a test or a procedure.

Where can parents learn more?

Go to thechildren.com and click on Emergency in the pink square in the center of the page.

The ER is always so busy. How do you keep your staff’s spirits bright?

The ER is indeed a bustling place. The last month has been hectic, resulting in long wait times for families and increasing pressure on hospital staff. The team in the ER is very close-knit, which helps with morale We established a volunteer Wellness committee a few years ago that organizes fun activities to foster team-building.

Would you please tell me a bit about The Children's Little Brats Constellations campaign?

The Montreal Children's Hospital Foundation just launched the Little Brats Constellations campaign to raise funds for the hospital, including the ER. The goal is to put the twinkle back in the eyes of sick children this holiday season, like those who come to the ER and those who are so ill they can't be home for the holidays. All Quebecers can buy a star for only $5. Your donation will build The Little Brats Constellations and make the holiday season brighter for sick children! Go to: Fondationduchildren.com for more information.