Kimberly Jones, MSN, RN, chief nursing officer, Cache Valley Hospital 

Let’s face it, stuff happens. You take a tumble on the bike and hit your head. The neighbor’s normally friendly cat bites your child. You suddenly feel a heavy pain in your chest. Often it can be difficult to know what to do. Should you “wait and see?” Call your doctor? Make a beeline to the ER? Here’s your cheat sheet for four common scenarios.

Chest pain

In the Emergency Room, there is a mantra that “time is heart muscle” — meaning that if someone is having a heart attack, the sooner a blocked blood vessel gets opened, the less chance there is for permanent heart damage. That’s why it’s so crucial for people having a heart attack to get to the ER as quickly as possible. But how do you know it’s a heart attack and not just a bad case of acid reflux? “It feels like an elephant is sitting on my chest” is one of the commonly described symptoms, although it can also be a sharp pain or feel like an ache. If you feel this type of pressure, especially if it’s lasted over five to 10 minutes and is accompanied by shortness of breath, breaking out in a cold sweat, spreading to your arm or back or vomiting, call 911 or go to the ER immediately.

Cut with a foreign object in it

Cuts can happen in everyday life. Sometimes a glass breaks while doing the dishes. Or, a sharp, dirty tool or a kitchen knife slips. When this happens, it’s crucial to thoroughly clean the wound and remove all foreign material. Otherwise, the cut won’t likely heal optimally, and it has a high chance of becoming infected. If you’re not sure it’s clean enough, or if you know pieces are still inside the skin, a doctor will need to irrigate it and wash out the pieces and bacteria. You may also need stitches if the cut won’t stop bleeding or if the skin gapes apart. If this is the case, visit your regular doctor, or head to your nearest ER.

Dog or cat bite

Pets are often our best friends, but their mouths are breeding grounds for bacteria, and their bites come with a high chance of infection. Cats are especially a problem because their sharp teeth can deposit bacteria deep into the skin, even if the puncture wound appears to be small. If a cat or a dog has bitten you, you need to see a doctor. The cut needs to be thoroughly irrigated and you’ll likely start antibiotics. You may also need a series of rabies shots if you don’t know if the dog or cat was immunized for rabies.

Fall and hit head

After a head injury there are a few symptoms for which you should definitely see a doctor, and you may even need the ER. Worrisome symptoms include vomiting (especially if it’s at least two or three times), a severe headache that’s the worst you’ve ever had, difficulty walking or talking, or loss of consciousness or trouble staying awake. burgers & brats