Health and Wellness

5 Rules for Emergency Preparedness

Some lesser-known steps to getting the help you need.

Photo by camilo jimenez on Unsplash

A number of years ago, I had a terrible crash while mountain biking in a remote area. My recollection is that the tree crossed the road in front of me, but this seems unlikely upon reflection.

My injuries included a dislocated shoulder, a broken nose, and a shattered knee. If you’ve never broken a bone, let me tell you that the pain is like having your hair set on fire and being unable to extinguish it. Thankfully, I had an emergency whistle with me; these whistles produce a very shrill, high-decibel sound that carries for a mile or more in distance. Help found me within minutes of beginning to blow on it.

Cell phones are great for emergencies — until you break them or there is no reception where you are. Have a backup plan.

Rule 1: Have some way to signal for help in an emergency.

The ambulance took nearly 45 minutes to arrive from the city, and I remained on the ground until then. A former Navy Seal was one of the first responders to my whistle, and he kept me calm and covered me with his jacket to ease my shock. It was he who flagged down the ambulance and guided them down into the ravine where I was lying. I was very fortunate, indeed.

I wasn’t part of a group of cyclists, but I had known that there were other people in the area where I would be riding. Don’t do things like climb ladders, work with power tools, attempt your own plumbing or electrical repairs, or engage in risky sports all by yourself. No matter how skilled you think you are.

Rule 2: If you are doing something potentially dangerous, make sure that there are going to be other people around if you need help.

When the ambulance attendants finally pulled me from the ravine and got back onto the highway, they asked me which hospital I wanted to go to. I was nearly delirious with pain and simply gasped, “Whichever one is closest!” Turns out, this is no way to choose a hospital. (Hint: if you don’t know where to go, ask the EMTs to take you to the BEST one!)

I was taken to a hospital in a part of town full of gangs, drugs, and violent crime; the ER was packed full of bullet wounds, knife fights, and overdoses. I waited six hours — with no pain medication — immobilized on a backboard in a hallway while other “more critical” patients were seen first.

After the first three hours, I began to moan in pain, eventually quite loudly. Finally, a doctor came up to my gurney and told me to, “Stop making so much noise.” When I told him I was in terrible pain, he replied, “You can’t have any pain medication until we examine you.” Then he walked away. It was another three hours before I was finally examined.

My injuries required surgery — which I waited to have performed until I could get to a different hospital. Obviously, this choice won’t be available to you in life-threatening situations, but if you are not in imminent danger of dying then make sure you feel good about how you are being treated at the hospital. If you don’t trust the medical personnel at that location, go somewhere else.

Rule 3: Have an emergency destination chosen before you need it.

If your family doctor or specialist is associated with a particular hospital, know which one it is. If you are taken to that hospital, they will contact your doctor for you. If you have any kind of medical condition that requires special measures (for example, diabetes, heart disease, organ transplants, drug or food allergies, etc.), then make sure that this information is available somewhere that emergency personnel can access it (a wallet card or thumb drive is good). Have a medic alert bracelet or necklace and wear it at all times.

Make sure you have the phone numbers of your doctors (including dentists, orthopedists, any specialists, and mental health care providers) programmed into your cell phone, either under ICE (“In case of emergency”) or under a combined “Doctors” heading. These numbers should also be with your medical information. Programming in the phone number for your insurance carrier (along with policy and/or user numbers and group number) means no delays in admitting you for treatment. If you can keep the insurance card on your person, that’s even better.

Rule 4: Know your numbers.

The best rule for emergency preparedness is to AVOID EMERGENCIES! Think before you act. Before you stop for that selfie, check your surroundings. Are you in the middle of the street or hiking along a cliff? Before you make that U-turn, check on-coming traffic. Before you go to pet that doggie, pay attention to his body language. Before you get out that power tool, make sure you have the proper safety gear on and that you’re sure you know how to operate the tool.

Rule 5: Be aware.

Our health care system can be convoluted and maddening to unravel, particularly in an emergency. Being prepared before you need it is the best way to ensure that you receive the best and the most timely care possible when those pesky “accidents” happen.

Writer, copy/line editor. Writing in science, society, environment, injustice, and mental health. Also personal essays. And some random weirdness.

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