In a medical emergency, there are many details to consider. Let’s take a step-by-step walkthrough the medical emergency of someone who is well-prepared.
Let’s call our theoretical patient Linda. She lives with her husband, and is often his caregiver. They have a cat and a dog living with them. Linda is typically healthier than her husband, but has had some heart problems.
Linda is in the kitchen and her husband is napping in the backyard when she suffers a mild heart attack. She uses her LifeAlert system to call an ambulance. Her husband doesn’t hear her, but because they have a key box and the combination information is in her LifeAlert details, the paramedics are able to enter the house without breaking down the door.
A few months earlier, Linda’s daughter helped her parents put together their medical history, and the paramedics find both packets of information attached to the front of the refrigerator. A picture on the outside of each packet immediately shows which one belongs to Linda, and in large type each packet states “For Medical Emergencies Only, Contact ______” with their daughter’s name and contact information.
The paramedics find Linda’s husband and want to bring him along to the emergency room. He is disoriented by the confusion and reluctant to leave because the dog needs to be walked. In Nancy’s medical history packet, the paramedics find a list of contacts, including a neighbor who will come and take care of the pets in case of emergency. They call the neighbor on the way to the hospital.
Because Linda is often her husband’s caregiver, highlights of his medical history, his medications, and physician contact information are also contained in her emergency packet.
While Linda’s emergency is not life-threatening, if it were the paramedics would have seen “DNR Instructions Inside” on the front of her medical history packet and found contact information for her medical power of attorney inside. Because all this information was clearly visible on the refrigerator, where paramedics look first, they would have known what to do in a more serious emergency.
If Linda were unable to communicate for a prolonged period, and if no one in the family was aware of her medical preferences, more precise information contained in the packet would give everyone the information they would need to make decisions for her: Does she want to be intubated? How long would she want to be kept on a ventilator? Would she want dialysis? Would she want to attempt alternative treatment methods?
And, if Linda were unable to return home for a few weeks, contact information in the packet would also include her financial power of attorney or the name of someone who would be able to step in and take care of bills while she is away. If her husband had dementia and needed constant care, the contact information for his emergency caregiver would also be included.
Don’t assume that if you or your parents are living in an assisted living facility that any of this information will be made available to paramedics. It is critical that all this information is kept on the apartment refrigerator, easily accessible. Also do not expect that a staff person will be sent with them to the hospital, this almost never happens, and they are not able to interface with emergency services on your behalf.
This is where a care management team can swing into action. Care managers have access to non-medical homecare providers who are on call and will generally be able to send a caregiver to meet the patient at the hospital within a few hours. They will make sure all appropriate people are contacted and will stay with the patient until others arrive, adding a level of comfort for the patient and family.