Preparing for an Emergency:
Make Sure You and Your Loved One are Ready
Emergencies happen, so how should you prepare for an emergency for your loved one? Are you ready if an emergency happens today?
It’s important to discuss emergency plans with the loved one you are caring for and to let him or her know how important it is to you. But planning for an emergency can seem overwhelming…where do you start? What exactly should you plan for?
I have more than three decades of experience in emergency medical services, and the following are the basic plans and tasks I recommend in order to prepare for an emergency with your loved one.
Be Prepared with These Steps
1. CREATE A “FILE OF LIFE”
Don’t wait for an emergency to happen. Sit down and talk with your loved one and other family members, or even friends and neighbors if they are involved, and create a file of important information, which I call the “File of Life”.
The file should include important contact information – your loved one’s name, insurance information, social security number and 2-3 emergency contacts including addresses and phone numbers.
Place the file in an accessible location. A good place is by the refrigerator, where most medics will look first. Provide copies to other family members, friends, and neighbors whom you trust.
2. INCLUDE WRITTEN MEDICAL HISTORY, MEDICATIONS, AND P.O.L.S.T. IN THE FILE OF LIF
- Medical history: Include your loved one’s main health conditions and which ones he or she takes medications for. Examples include diabetes, high blood pressure, a heart condition or a pacemaker. Include recent discharge papers.
- Medications: Include a list of current medications with dosage information. Most clinics will provide you with an updated list.
- P. O.L.S.T.: This is a Physician’s Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment, which is like a combination of a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) form and a living will. A P.O.L.S.T. clearly lists your loved one’s wishes in an emergency situation. For example, “Yes, administer CPR” or “I want CPR, but don’t want to be on life support.” If the emergency response team doesn’t have specific wishes from your loved one, they will do all within their abilities to resuscitate. Having a P.O.L.S.T. form takes the guesswork out of it. The P.O.L.S.T. must be current and signed by a physician, and ideally placed in the front of the file. Always make copies and do not give out the original form.
- Additional forms to include: – You may also wish to include a POA (Power of Attorney) and living will/advanced directive in the File of Life. If your loved one is unable to articulate his or her wishes, having an advanced directive on how to handle situations (such as being on a ventilator) are better decided before an emergency.
3. HAVE A FIRST AID KIT AND BASIC MEDICAL SUPPLIES IN THE HOME
A simple first aid kit, including bandages, a bottle of baby aspirin (if there is chest pain, 911 may ask you to administer this, and it can be life-saving), Benadryl in liquid or pill form (for allergies or stings), and a preferred analgesic for aches and pains.
4. KNOW HOW AND WHEN TO DIAL 911
Call anytime there are acute symptoms such as being out of breath, having chest pain, uncontrolled bleeding or anytime you think a delay in medical care will result in further danger. If your loved one needs more than what is in your basic first aid kit, it is likely you need to call 911. If you can’t control what is happening or the pain, call 911.
5. KNOW WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU DIAL 911
When you call 911 from a landline or cell phone, you will get a primary point of access, such as the sheriff’s department in your county. They will ask you what the emergency is and whether you need the fire department, police, or ambulance.
If you say you need an ambulance, the 911 operator will either contact the ambulance and ask you to stay on the line (they need to ask you important questions) or they will tell you that you are being transferred to EMS (Emergency Medical Services). It may be frustrating to answer 911’s questions, but it’s very important for them to understand the emergency and to confirm essential details like the address and who you are. In critical scenarios, 911 may provide life-saving instructions such as how to administer CPR.
If you call 911 from a cell phone, you will likely get the local 911 center. But in some cases, such as while traveling, you may get the highway patrol or state police. They will ask where you are located – exactly. If you don’t know, they will try to ping your phone to get GPS coordinates, and then may need to transfer you to the local 911 center.
Sometimes people are in a situation where it is not safe to talk out loud or are not comfortable and will need to text to 911. Generally, if you text to 911 and need an ambulance, you will get a response quickly, however, this varies state-to-state.
If you have phones through your internet or cable company you should know that when you call 911, your call may be directed to another state’s 911 system. If that happens, they may need to look at your information and then call your local 911 center to connect you. This can take up to 2 minutes. Make sure the cable or computer company has the correct information on file!
6. UNDERSTAND WHAT THE EMERGENCY TEAM MAY DO ONCE THEY ARRIVE
Any town has more first responders than ambulances, so the first person at the home may be a police officer or someone from the fire department. Know that they are EMT-trained and will stay with you until the medics arrive. Once the medics arrive, they will ask for medication lists and identification for your loved one.
To help ensure the medics arrive as fast as possible, make sure your doors are unlocked and remember to give the 911 operator any security codes that are needed. Turn on the lights and know that the medics may want someone to meet them outside if possible. Make sure the address is clearly marked on the house, and if on the mailbox, make sure they are high enough to read, at least 2 inches. (It’s very hard to drive 30 mph and try reading a small mailbox number!). They will provide initial medical care such as taking vital signs, controlling breathing or bleeding, and administering oxygen.
7. CHOOSING A HOSPITAL
In most situations, the patient gets to decide which hospital they will be transported to (within reason). Most patients choose their typical hospital, but the medics may suggest a different location if needed, such as a hospital with a specialty center or a trauma center. In small towns, the paramedics may have to go to the closest hospital because they can’t leave their geographic area for long periods of time. Understandably, insurance is a concern for many patients if they have to be transported to an unfamiliar hospital. However, most policies will cover an emergency and if the patient is admitted for longer than 24 hours, the hospital will contact the insurance company to determine if a transfer is necessary.
Ask questions of your loved one’s medical team before there is an emergency! If your loved one isn’t asking, ask for them. Get a current list of medical conditions, know which medications your loved one is taking and ask the doctor to explain what the medications are for. It doesn’t take too much time to compile these documents and lists, but they can make a world of difference in an emergency.
Operations Battalion Chief/Public Information Officer
Mike has 35 years of experience in emergency medical services and works for a major emergency medical services organization in Minnesota.