Don’t let COVID-19 fears keep you from seeking medical help in other life-threatening situations

By Melissa Erickson | Living 50 Plus

Avoiding medical care because of fears of contracting COVID-19 could mean the difference between life and death.

For major medical issues such as heart attack and stroke, the benefits of quickly getting care are much, much higher, said Dr. B.J. Hicks, OhioHealth vascular neurologist and co-director of the Comprehensive Stroke Program at Riverside Methodist Hospital, Columbus, Ohio.

“Make sure you seek treatment that will have you walk out rather than waiting too long so they have to roll you out,” Hicks said.

Months into the pandemic, some people are still delaying treatment for serious illnesses or emergencies, but the hospitals are pretty much back to normal with added protections, said Dr. Kevin Hewitt, chairman of emergency medicine for the Emergency and Trauma Center, Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey.

“Hospitals are taking a lot of precautions,” he said. Patients and accompanying family members (if they are even allowed inside a medical facility) are screened for COVID-19 by temperature and answering medical questionnaires. Appointments are staggered. Plus, everyone is wearing a mask.

“We now know how important masks are. We are learning so much more about masks not just about spreading the virus but also how they protect from acquiring the virus,” Hicks said.

The likelihood of infection at a hospital or medical center is low because very important safety protocols have been adopted, Hicks said.

“We have not seen medical mismanagement. These sorts of emergencies have not been sidetracked by hospital-acquired COVID-19,” he said.

Get care as quickly as possible. People who may be experiencing symptoms of heart attack or stroke do not have the time to debate about being cautious.

“It’s critical to seek treatment,” Hicks said. A delay “may lead to irreparable harm,” he said.

Patients who ignore the signs of major illness leave medical professionals with fewer options.

“People are getting to the hospital later than we like, and the opportunity to reverse, erase the stroke, to hamper or dampen it is cut mercilessly short because of the loss of time,” Hicks said.

During a heart attack, the heart muscle dies when the blood flow is restricted for too long.

“In the event that the heart attack puts you into cardiac arrest, there’s a small window of time that medical professionals can get your heart beating again.” Hewitt said.

As flu season arrives, the consequences of delayed action will be seen.

“When it comes to the winter months we tend to see an uptick in overall hospitalized patients because it’s flu season, and with flu season comes a lot of other medical illnesses that require hospitalizations,” Hicks said. “It would be potentially disastrous if on top of what we classically see for patients in the winter months or during the flu season that we also have patients that are going to neglect emergency care, because oftentimes these patients are critical if they come down with these kind of conditions, including COVID-19 but also the garden variety medical emergencies that we take care of whether or not they have a seasonal component.”

Every minute matters. If you think you are having a heart attack or stroke, call 911.