No one plans for bad things to happen — but when a medical emergency occurs, you’ll be glad you were prepared. (Photo: Getty Images/Kyu Oh)
There’s a reason they call it a medical emergency — it’s never something you actually plan to happen. But still, there are things you can do now that your future self will thank you for.
Here are seven smart and simple steps you can take now and during an emergency that just might save your life:
1. List an emergency contact in your phone under ICE.
Add your spouse or parents’ phone numbers to your smartphone’s address book under “ICE,” which stands for “in case of emergency.” That way, emergency technicians and physicians know exactly who to contact to find out any important details about your health history and your wishes if you’re unconscious.
2. Wear your medical ID bracelet.
If you have diabetes or life-threatening allergies, always wear your medical ID bracelet. "That can be very valuable as far as saving time,” Taz Meyer, an EMT paramedic and vice chair of the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians' EMS Safety Committee, tells Yahoo Health. “Paramedics are taught in school to look for those bracelets, especially if someone is unconscious and we don’t know why.”
3. Take a photo of your medications.
Line up your medications and get a clear shot of the labels for easy, accurate access to the correct drug names and dosages you’re taking. The label also provides the name of your prescribing physician and his or her phone number, so emergency medicine physicians can reach out to your doctor if needed.
4. Get a photo of your EKG.
If you have a pre-existing heart condition or have had a heart attack, get a copy of your baseline EKG from your doctor and take a photo of it with your smartphone so you have it on hand. “Your EKG is your signature — it’s specific,” says Meyer. “If [a heart problem] is 10 years old, we’ll know there’s nothing new. But if not, it may be a new problem we’re dealing with. If we need to see your old EKG, that [information] can make a big difference in treatment.”
5. Have an advanced directive and health care proxy.
An advanced directive is a legal document that spells out your wishes for end-of-life care, such as whether you want to be resuscitated if your heart stops or if you want to donate your organs, and names a health care proxy, which is someone you trust to make medical decisions on your behalf if you’re incapacitated. "The whole idea is if you can’t make decisions for yourself, you’ve appointed someone to do that for you,” David Barlas, MD, assistant professor and chief of service at NYU Langone Medical Center’s Ronald O. Perelman Department of Emergency Medicine at Cobble Hill, tells Yahoo Health. “A lot of people put it off, but you really shouldn’t because you can’t predict when you’re going to need it.”
6. When it doubt, call an ambulance.
“The time we run into trouble is when people don’t call because they’re embarrassed and aren’t sure it’s a true emergency,” says Barlas. “EMTs never say, ‘This is a waste of my time.’”
Meyer reiterates this: “We don’t want the person to be hesitant to call 911.” It may help to keep in mind that certain health problems should raise an immediate red flag that warrant calling an ambulance, such as if you’re in severe pain or are experiencing chest discomfort, notes Barlas. “I don’t just say chest pain because a lot of things can happen with the heart, lungs, and chest that are not painful,” he says. “It could be an ache, and a lot of people don’t realize those can be serious, especially if you’ve never experienced it before.”
And don’t hesitate to call an ambulance if you have shortness of breath, such as from an asthma attack, allergic reaction, or a heart problem. “When people get short of breath and medications at home aren’t doing the job, people can pass out in minutes,” says Barlas. “Minutes count."
7. Dial 911 and chew an aspirin if you have chest discomfort.
If you’re experiencing chest pain or discomfort, which may be accompanied by shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, and jaw or back pain, call an ambulance right away, followed by chewing a 325-milligram dose of aspirin (one adult-strength aspirin). The aspirin inhibits platelets that can cause artery-blocking clots, which, in turn, can deprive the heart of oxygen. Research shows that chewing the aspirin works faster than swallowing it whole and may save your life.
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