What to Do When You Have To Call 911 For A loved One

Earlier today Fat Cyclist added a post on his site How to Help a Loved One Starting Cancer Treatment which had some really good information and there is a ton more good info in the comments from his readers.  I happened to think I could offer some insight on what to do if you need to call 911 for a loved one specifically if your loved one has cancer.  I sent him an e-mail with some suggestions and he suggested I add it to my site.  So here you go “What to Do When You Have To Call 911 For A loved One.” 

1.  Be ready to have your house swarmed by fire fighters.  In my city if you call 911 you automatically get an Engine Staffed with at least 3 fire fighter/ paramedics and a Rescue Unit staffed with 3 more fire fighter paramedics.  That’s at least 6 highly trained rescuers at your front door usually within minutes.  Each of us has a job we all know it well and we do it gladly.  It may seem like overkill but your loved ones life is potentially on the line here and keeping that in mind can there really be too many paramedics in your house?

2.  Take the time to write out a medication list including dosage amounts and how many times a day your loved one takes that medication.  Its not hard any piece of paper will work, once you do that make copies of it.  Keep it somewhere you know you will remember even under the stress of a medical emergency.  We always tell people to put it on their refrigerator.  If any medication changes please note that on the list.  If you loved one has a medication added or is done taking one take it off the list or add it as the case may be.  There is no shame in pain medication….I repeat NO SHAME AT ALL.  Some people try to hide this fact, please don’t.

 3.  On the medication list please make a note if a dosage has changed in the last week.  This is important for the simple fact medications don’t always get along.

 4. Help us help you.  If there is a certain way you move your loved one or a position of comfort shout it out.  Our goal is to make our patients as comfortable as possible. 

 5.  How are your house numbers on the outside of your house?  We are good but we are not mind readers please make sure your house numbers are in plain sight and easy to read at night.  Want to be our friends forever?  Make them reflective and you might just get a Christmas card from us.  If we can’t find you we cant help you.

 6.  Ports, shunts, and central lines.  When were they cleaned last?  Any problems with them?  Recently replaced?  We want and need to know this information.

 7.  What hospital do you use?  We need to know.  Now this is going to get tricky and even controversial….we can’t always go to the hospital you want to go to.  Sound crazy?  Here’s why, lets say your loved one is having chest pain.  The hospital you want to go to has no way to treat a potential heart attack….why would we go there?  We go to the most appropriate facility available.  This particular medical emergency might not have anything to do with cancer.  Think of it this way…do you go to a proctologist for an ear ache?  Neither do we.

 8.  Don’t get offended if we don’t look at you when you are talking.  We move fast and we have a lot to do, we are experts at listening while we are doing something else.  We are catching what you are saying even though it may not look like it at the time.

 9.  Keep a clear path in your house or your loved ones house.  We have stretchers and we will probably need to move your loved one through the house.  We also have about 500 pounds worth of diagnostic equipment.  Clear paths speed the time we can get in and out.

 10.  We want to know everything and we want to know it five minutes ago.  We need to know the highlights like past history of high blood pressure, strokes, medication allergies, recent operations or treatments etc.  Know it and tell us about it.  Stuff like a broken finger when your mom was 4 is just meaningless clutter.

 11.  Doctors.  We don’t need to know them all we just need to know who is currently treating your loved one.  Even if its 3 or 10 if they are treating your loved one currently know who they are.  You can even add this to the medication list and list what their specialty is.

12.  Stay calm.  Panic does not help anyone, if you need to step out of the room for a moment do so.

 13.  Be patient.  Depending on the problem we may need to stabilize in the house.  We have run on thousands of patients we know what we are doing and how to do it.  Screaming stuff like “Hurry Up” and “Would you just take her to the hospital” is completely unacceptable and despite the fact you have a reflective address on your house is a sure fire way to get OFF of the Christmas card list.

 14.  Usually only one person can ride in the ambulance to the hospital.  That’s the rule, an ambulance is no place for family reunions.  The rest can meet us at the hospital.  In some cases we will be running lights and sirens to the hospital.  If you are following in a car DO NOT try to keep up with us!  If we are just driving without lights and sirens there is a reason and there are also laws that govern when we can do such a thing. 

15.  If your loved one is awake we want to hear the answers from them, dont offer them up right away.  This is a little trick we use to determine level of consciousness.  We also are looking for speech patterns and things like drooping corners of the mouth and tounge movement.  We want to see where your loved one is mentally and physically and if they can answer questions.  If there is some problem where they cant speak we will look to you to speak on their behalf. 

16.  Don’t get pissy when we ask your family member the same questions several minutes apart.  Again its one of the tricks of the trade, we are getting a benchmark on mental acuity.  Its not that we aren’t paying attention its just we are crafty tricksters and we get information even without asking.

17.  We use needles, big ones small ones and everything in between, get over it.  Don’t freak when we pull out a needle and if your loved one is God forbid a child never promise that child that they wont get a shot.  Kids feed off of the reactions of parents if you freak the kid freaks and it is nearly impossible to treat a kid in the middle of a tantrum.

28 thoughts on “What to Do When You Have To Call 911 For A loved One

  1. Amen to # 2 & #3! As a nurse on a medical/oncology floor of a hospital, there is nothing more irritating to me as when people (or their families/caregivers) have absolutely no clue about the medications they are taking. Become pro-active about your health, people! Thanks for the great list!

    1. Typically if someone is freaking out about getting stuck with a needle they really arent all that sick. The worst is when the parents freak out when we need to stick a kid. I always use distraction as a method. I never let the patient see the needle and then distract them somehow and then stick them. Oddly its never as bad as they think its going to be when its over with.

  2. Came over from Fatty’s — Thank you so much. I plan to send a link to my friends and family. Really good information for anyone to know.

  3. My husband has serious heart and lung problems. We keep a copy of his meds (a very long list) in the computer and update it every time we have a doctor, lab or hospital appt. It is always current, or needs very little update, and is easy to print off when he has appts. We haven’t needed to call 911 (yet) but after reading your article, I think we will add his doctors’ names and phone numbers and keep a copy out where we can find it easily.

    Good info. Thanks.

    1. Myrna T,

      Hopefully you never have to call but if you do thank you for being so vigilant with your husbands information. I wish everyone were as organized as you, it would save precious time should the situation ever arise.

  4. Thank you, thank you, thank you from a long time Paramedic…I wish that every school kid had to learn this, so as to be a life long lesson. I can recall way too many instances when family interference became so heinous as well as life-threatening to the patient and crew that PD had to intervene. It should never have to get to that point.
    I hope that you and Fatty get together and write a great guide!

  5. One thing that my mother’s town does – maybe just for elderly citizens, but may be on offer to all – is a magnet and an oversize pill bottle. The magnet goes on the fridge and says something like “READ ME FOR MEDICATIONS/MEDICAL CONDITIONS” and the bottle goes in the door of the fridge with the pertinent info rolled up inside on a sheet of paper. It has worked for her (us) in the past.

    1. Lisa B.

      We offered this service at one time and we called it “Vial of Life” however we found that people were not updating the list, or we would find an empty vial in the fridge. On one occasion we found the vial was being used to hold garlic cloves. I proposed a joint program twice a year with the reminders to change your smoke detector batteries and your medication list. Still working on that one though. Thanks for stopping by.

  6. Awesome post. As an EMT-IV myself, this is great information that would be nice if everyone knew. I wish this could be posted on every homepage out there so everyone could be clued in to out job and some of the difficulties that come along with it. It makes everyone’s life a little easier when callers/ family members already know the stuff listed above.

  7. Thank you, this is extremely helpful. And thank you for all you do in your profession for all of us. We just went through horrific wildfires here in Southern California, and all the firefighters were/are absolute heroes throughout it all. All of you emergency responders are amazing. And are saints on Earth. Bless you.

  8. Downlaoded and printed, and aged reflective paint will be refreshed. One question, is there a particular location for the address, that 9-1-1 responders look for first?

    1. Quickshot 39,

      The first place I look for a address is near the front door, if I dont see one there I look above the garage (if there is one) after that I scan the entire front of the house. I am a big advocate of the address painted on the front curb in front of the house as well but local codes and regulations may not allow such a thing. Thanks for stopping by!

  9. In one terrible week 3 years ago my father was taken to the hospital for a worsening of his congestive heart failure. I flew from the east coast to the west to help and to look after my sometimes addled mother. 2 days into what turned into a week, Mom fell off her bed while getting ready to sleep. When I heard her calling it was clear that she had probably broken her hip. I called 911 and waited. This was so clearly only an ambulance call that we did not have the fire trucks as well the ambulance. The crew was very professional and well prepared to get an elderly woman with a probably broken hip from one end of the house to the other and right to the hospital. I was able to gather all of her meds I knew about, as well as necessary clothing. The short term outcome was good.

    In a bike related incident (relevant to Fatty’s starting jump starting of this thread) in my bike commute across a soon-to-be-renovated bridge I hit a hole in the road, making a perfect 6 point landing (ankle, knee, hip, wrist, elbow, and head).

    A nurse motorist stopped to help and insisted that she call for help. The crew that picked me up and the police that also checked things out where all exceedingly helpful, although I was up and alert and did not really think I needed the cervical collar and the backboard. I was reasonably sure I was OK but a CAT scan and a lecture from the neurologist about getting a new helmet was all I really needed. Still, if you bonk your head and crack your helmet, get it checked out.

    Aside, the policemen took my bike to their home station (I wasn’t going to bring it into the wagon or the ER). The service the next day getting the bike back was completely pleasant and helpful.

    1. MIke,

      Every municipality is different as far as what they send out on medical calls. In the county I live and work in about 90% of the FD’s send an engine and a rescue. I am glad the outcome for your mom was good, I hope she does not have any long lasting effects of the hip problem? C-Collars and back boards are part of standard care when a fall like yours occours, we dont do it to torture I promise!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s