When my son, Tommy, was seven months old, I felt like I could finally relax a little. He had gotten into daycare, work had settled down for a moment, and my wife assured me that they would survive without me for a few days. So, I booked a trip to Las Vegas and prepared to bask in the glow of sunshine by day and neon by night.

My carefree getaway lasted about four hours: A few minutes after stepping off the plane in Nevada, Tommy’s new teacher called to report that he had a fever of 101.

For seven blissful months, we had never been forced to deal with even a sniffle. Now, his brain was melting. Didn’t I recall reading in one of our parenting books that anything above 100 meant I needed to rush him to the emergency department? So why was the daycare provider being so calm?! And why hadn’t my wife answered any of the six calls I had placed to her phone in the past two minutes?!?!

Feeling panicked and powerless, I did what I had already done dozens of times when feeling panicked and powerless since Tommy had been born: I called my sister. A pediatric nurse practitioner, Adriane had talked us through everything from Tommy’s first bath to Tommy’s first rash. Once again, she calmed my nerves and explained that high fevers in newborns are perfectly normal. I should test him for COVID-19, monitor him at home, and make sure he stayed hydrated. Otherwise, he sounded like a perfectly normal sick kid. Do NOT, she stressed, take Tommy to the emergency department.

Adriane was right, of course. Tommy was himself again in a few days—brain still seemingly intact—and we were spared the inconvenience (not to mention the expense) of the ED.

Navigating the health care system is difficult enough when you’re well. Throw in an emergency—a little blood, a broken bone, a scary fever—and the situation feels like it could spiral out of control. If only everyone had their own Adriane to help them make the right medical decision.

That’s why we asked freelance writer Julie Dugdale to give you the next best thing: an in-depth guide to Denver-area emergency departments. The resulting feature story provides readers with important insights into how these crisis centers operate and the best ways to use them—from what constitutes an emergency to how to behave once you’re admitted to tips for avoiding sticker shock when the bill arrives. Here’s hoping the story delivers to you even a sliver of the comfort Adriane’s sisterly advice has brought me.