Preparing for Medical Emergencies

Preparing for Medical Emergencies

Take a few steps now to save time (and maybe lives) later
by Amy Rawson

When it comes to your health, you may think that taking good care of yourself and your family is enough. It's not. You need to go that extra step to ensure that you and your family members get the health care you need in any circumstance.

Although some people feel that preparing for illness is tempting fate, the reverse is actually true. You are protecting yourself and your loved ones from any unforeseen problems that may arise. After the fact, it's too late.

Start by writing it down

The first thing you need to do, according to Diane, a hospital's nursing administrator, is write down all of your (and your family's) allergies, medications (dose and frequency), current and past medical conditions, surgeries, significant family history, the name of a person to contact in case of an emergency and a wallet size health care proxy and organ donor card if applicable. She also recommends carrying all of the above information on you--in your wallet or purse--if you have significant medical problems. At least make sure you have it in an accessible area in your home that an adult can get to if the need arises.

Children should be provided with age-appropriate health information. At a minimum they should be aware of any symptoms that need to be reported to an adult immediately, know how to contact their parents, and the name of their physicians.

You may want to consider a Medic Alert bracelet if there is a significant medical problem. They are inexpensive, universally recognized and comfortable to wear. Mary Jo, an Emergency Medical Technician, recommends putting the medical bracelet on a child's ankle. There, they are less likely to play with (or remove) it, and EMTs are trained to look for them there.

Advanced Directives: Leaving instructions when you can't talk

A good guideline for information is this list of Advanced Directives:

A Health Care Proxy--A HCP allows any adult to appoint another adult (family or friend) who may make medical decisions for them if they become too ill to make their own decisions about medical care. Julie, a hospital Patient Representative, states that although it is convenient to have an appointed proxy agent who lives locally, it is more important that the patient chooses an individual who knows them well and will best represent their wishes, even if that person lives out of the area.

A Living Will--Written documentation of your wishes regarding medical care to insure that your whishes will be known and honored even during a time when you may be too ill to speak the Dr.

It is important to know that rescue squad personnel are NOT legally permitted to honor Health Care Proxies and Living Wills.

Do Not Resuscitate Order--A DNR informs the doctor and other hospital staff that you do not want them to do CPR (or try to revive you) if your heart or your breathing stops. If a patient is fully aware that a DNR order means that in the case of cardiac and or respiratory arrest, NO effort will be made to resuscitate them, and they agree with that decision, it is VERY important that they make their wishes known to their physician so that an order can be written. A physician may write a DNR order for the patient while they are hospitalized and/or may sign a specific document to be kept in the patient's residence that will be honored by rescue squad personnel.

You should contact your hospital's Patient and Family Services department or the Patient Relations Department for a copy of the forms mentioned here. They are available to both the patient and their families.

Taking time now to do a little organizing and advance thinking about health emergencies may seem a little macabre. But it can save critical minutes in emergencies, and bring at least a little calm into what may be a chaotic and frightening time.

Amy Rawson is a freelance writer, and is the attachment parent leader at She also runs a home-based business making homemade salves, oils and balms for babies and mamas at This article © 1999-2005 Amy Rawson. Used by permission.

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