It’s a Thursday night in your hometown.  Your mom, who had been sound asleep until a minute ago, gets up to go to the bathroom.  She does not bother to turn on a light because she knows every square inch of her bedroom like the back of her hand.  Except she has forgotten that she  used her electric hot pad before going to sleep that night and its cord is lying across her path to the WC.  Your mom’s slippered feet get caught up in the cord and before she can correct herself, she falls to the floor, hitting her head on a heavy bureau on the way down.  She tries to get up but is stopped by the searing pain in her left leg.  

Meanwhile, 1,200 miles away, you have just fallen asleep after another long day of juggling a project deadline, office politics, a nearly empty refrigerator and the needs of your beloved spouse and high-school aged daughters.  The phone rings and an unfamiliar voice tells you that your mother has just called for help using her “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” button.  The paramedics are on their way now . . . .

Like a good scout, “Be Prepared.”

Emergencies are inherently stressful, but preparing in advance can pay dividends in reduced wear-and-tear on you and your family if you have to respond to one.  Organizing what you need so that you can easily access it when the time comes is critical, so below is a list of some things you will want to have at hand that will make things easier on your end if a loved one has to go the hospital for emergency medical treatment:

    1. Health Care Power of Attorney:  If your loved one wants you to make medical decisions on their behalf, it is imperative that they put it in writing and make it official.  They can go to a local attorney for assistance with this, or it is possible to take the DIY route and use online resources to produce their own.  AARP offers an excellent, plain-English guide to the finer points of these important documents.
      1. Pro Tip:  You may not need a lawyer to create a power of attorney document but that does not mean that you will not need a little help from your friends.  Rules vary from state to state, so do your research, but it is very likely that you may need one or more people to witness the signing of the document and you may even need it to be certified by a notary.  Also, if your health care power of attorney will include specific end-of-life care instructions, you will probably need to have your doctor sign off on this part as well.  More on that in the next paragraph.
    2. Advance Directive:  Sometimes, an Advance Directive (also known as a Living Will) is included in the Health Care Power of Attorney document.  This provides doctors with critical information about how a patient wants to be cared for in certain life-and-death situations.  Since the specifics of these decisions can be pretty technical, a doctor must explain and sign off on them in order for the document to be valid in an emergency.  So, it is important to factor in having this conversation with the doctor as part of the process of getting your medical-emergency “ducks in a row.”
      1. Pro Tip:Coordinate with your loved one around getting these documents completed.  Most people do not want to think about things like disability and death and a common response to both is avoidance.  So, it may take gentle support from you to make sure that the appointment gets kept, the documents are brought to the appointment, and the conversation takes place.

The information on a Medicare care is essentially unchanging, but the details of a person’s health insurance can change from year to year during the October to 15 to December 7 open enrollment period.  So, once you have your loved one’s current card, it is a good idea to check in with them at the end of the calendar year to find out if they have changed their policy.

    1. Friends and neighbors:  We all get by with a little help from these folks, but the last thing you want to do is have to scramble for their names and numbers in the middle of a hospital admission.  So, to take this stress of your plate, ask your loved one for the names and numbers of two friends he or she trusts who could lend a hand in a medical emergency as well as the name, address and number for a neighbor who would be willing to help bring in mail and move garbage cans during an unplanned absence.  You may want to have this information gathering process include actually reaching out to these people while you are with your loved one, just to ensure that these friends know that they could be called upon to help in an emergency.Not only is doing so good manners, you could save yourself some stress in the event that the people your loved one thinks can be helpful are unwilling or unable to pitch in.

Get It Together!

Remember way back in grade school how every once in a while the whole school was uprooted from its daily routine by a fire drill?  At the time, the clanging bell probably signaled a much-appreciated release from the tedium of practicing long division or some other skill our smartphones now do for us, but the real point was to make sure that everyone in the building didn’t have to think about how to get out in the event of an emergency.  By having a drill, we were all learning a specific route to safety, one that would allow everyone to exit without incident.

Your “In Case of Emergency” folder serves the same basic purpose as your grade school fire drill.  By placing hard copy of all of these documents in a folder that you always keep in the same place, you know you can find your way out of the “burning building” of a loved one’s health emergency without having to scramble to get what you need from a dozen different places.  You’ve set things up in a way that allows you to use your energy on helping resolve the crisis instead of coming to the situation already stressed and tired after going on a search for the information that the doctors and nurses need in order to help the person in the hospital.

If your loved one is as prepared for emergencies as you are, they should have a copy of this kind of document in an easy-to-find place.  For a simple Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order, it is customary to place a copy outside of the fridge in plain view of emergency responders; for those who want a less public storage place, paramedics also know to look for such documents in the freezer.  Yes, the freezer. If first responders cannot find a copy of a DNR or Advance Directive, they are legally obliged to try to resuscitate an unresponsive patient.

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