’Tis the night before Christmas, and all through the town,
Your HIV doc is nowhere to be found.

But your fever is high (could it just be the flu?),
so you hit the ER, with your mood turning blue.

The waiting room’s packed with sick people galore—
Limbs busted, tots wailing, folks sneezing and more.

You’re freaked that your “flu” is becoming severe—
To survive the ER, check the tips listed here:

Plan ahead: POZ hopes you don’t get sick and end up in the ER ever—much less over the holidays. But if your doctor is going to be unavailable, ask him or her to recommend a hospital emergency room—preferably one where Doc is on staff. Keep directions to that ER in your home medical file.

Call ahead: Find out if the ER is on “divert” status, a code alerting emergency medical service workers to avoid that hospital because it’s too busy. If you walk in, you may have a long wait. To shorten the wait at the other end, arrange a ride home in advance.

Bring I.D.: And make sure you have a current insurance card and doctor’s contact info.

Bring records: The American Academy of HIV Medicine’s Howard Grossman, MD,says, “Write up when you were diagnosed with HIV, past infections,surgical history, HIV and other meds you’ve taken, how long and in what combinations” to avoid having to repeat it to every doc and nurse you see.

Keep up to date: Tracy Bruce of Atlanta says, “After 12 years of HIV, my immune system couldn’t handle a bee sting, so in 2002 I went into an apyhlactic shock—my throat was swollen shut, and I couldn’t breathe or speak. Because I had an updated, written medical history—including allergies—the EMT guys could start treatment even before loading me into the ambulance.”

Pack it up: David Gray, an HIVer and veteran of Massachusetts ERs, says, “If admitted, you’ll need comfortable clothes, underwear, something to read, paper, pen and phone numbers. And bring all your meds. When I’ve been hospitalized, they’ve always messed up, like giving me only one of my three antivirals.” San Francisco’s Rachel Chin, MD, advises bringing at least two doses of your combo in case the hospital pharmacy is lacking. “You can administer your pills yourself,” Chin adds, “but let the doc know—there may be an NPO [nothing per oral] order in case you need surgery.”

Speak up: At the ER, state your problem clearly, including HIV status. Be polite but assertive. ERs take severe cases first. If your condition worsens, alert the receptionist.

Buddy up: Bring along a friend for comfort and good cheer. And to all, a good night.