Parental perception of the passage of time during a stressful event

Christopher Kelly, Victoria Shulman, Hnin Khine, Jeffrey R. Avner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVE: The duration of a specific event during an emergency and the duration of time from the event until medical evaluation are important components of a detailed history and may influence management decisions. We sought to determine whether a caregiver is accurate in their recollection of the passage of time related to a stressful event. METHODS: A convenience sample of caregivers who arrived with the child to an urban pediatric emergency department via emergency medical service (EMS) ambulance were administered a brief questionnaire that included their recollection of the following time intervals: calling the ambulance to arrival at the scene (call time), arrival of the ambulance at the scene until departure (scene time), and from the scene until arrival in the emergency department (transport time). The total time was the addition of the 3 intervals. The caregiver's recalled time estimates were then compared with corresponding time intervals extracted from the ambulance "run sheet" submitted by the EMS personnel. RESULTS: Sixty-one caregivers recalled all 3 time intervals. The mean call time was 6 minutes (range, 1-25 minutes), and the mean total time was 33 minutes (range, 12-72 minutes). The time interval closest to the emergency event, the call time, was underestimated by the caregiver in 11 cases (18%), was exact in 8 cases (13%), and was overestimated in 42 cases (69%). The caregiver's estimate was within 1 minute of the EMS recorded call time in 30%, the scene time in 18%, the transport time in 33%, and the total time in 15%. There was no association of caregiver accuracy with the self-assessment of stress level. CONCLUSIONS: Caregivers recollection of the ambulance time intervals during their child's illness was generally unreliable. If used as a marker for the caregiver's perception of the passage of time during a stressful event, these data suggest that interval estimates alone should not be used to guide management.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)376-379
Number of pages4
JournalPediatric Emergency Care
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2007


  • Stress
  • Time

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Emergency Medicine


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