In Case of Emergency

It’s been drilled into your head since kindergarten. Recognize emergencies. Call for help. don’t interfere.

But have you ever thought?really thought?about how you’d respond to a medical emergency in your own home? Here’s a hint: No matter how prepared you are for an emergency, You’re never really prepared for an emergency. But you get an on-the-spot education when it happens.

Here’s what I learned when my nine-year-old had a severe asthma attack and stopped breathing (She’s fortunately fine now).

1) Call 911. This seems very obvious, but when You’re thrown into an emergency situation It’s natural to rush to try to help the person in distress, or even to wonder if you can handle it on your own. Every minute counts. Make the call?and don’t dither. If there’s nothing to worry about, they’ll let you know.

2) The dispatcher is on your side. The dispatcher will ask a lot of questions, and in the shock of the moment it may seem like they’re trying to prove you wrong?or to make light of your fear. Not true. they’re trained to get the most accurate information possible so they can send the right crew with the right equipment. They also need you to stay calm so they can tell you what to do and what not to do while You’re waiting for the EMTs or paramedics to arrive.

3) Knowledge and training aren’t enough. Even if You’re a trained EMT?like my husband is?It’s a completely different experience when You’re thrown into an emergency situation, and the patient is a loved one. It’s hard to think straight and remember the proper steps to assess and treat when the stakes are crazy high.

And even if you do take those steps, there’s a limit to how successful you can be without medical equipment and support. In my daughter’s case, all we had to work with were rescue breaths. When the paramedics came, they pulled out epinephrine and a ventilator and some tubes and oxygen and a bunch of other specialized medical equipment. Not the kind of thing you have lying around the house.

One more good reason why calling 911 is essential.

4) Back off and let the professionals do their thing. The paramedics told me we were surprisingly calm. I’d been a bystander in an emergency situation before and had watched relatives losing it, and their reaction hadn’t helped anyone (as understandable as it might have been). That memory gave me enough presence of mind to keep from interfering in my daughter’s case, even though I was desperate to help.

It’s heartbreaking to see a loved one hooked up to tubes and surrounded by medical personnel. But freaking out distracts the medics from doing what they’re supposed to do?save a life.

5) Your memory will play tricks on you. Apparently the cops showed up (I believe this is routine in our area when the emergency involves a kid). The paramedics told them that it was an asthma case, so they had it covered. I didn’t see or hear this exchange at all. But what I did notice?and vividly remember?was holding myself back from putting a towel under my daughter’s arm when the IV needle spilled some of her blood on the living room carpet. Your brain’s a bit unreliable in a traumatic situation, which is yet another reason why you need to call in the professionals, no matter how much you think you’ve got this.

Before that afternoon, I knew what to do in an emergency situation, but I didn’t really get it like I do now. Take some time to think through how you might emotionally respond if you needed to take action today. No one wants a medical emergency in their own family, but emergencies are inevitable?and preparedness saves lives.

Christina M. Frey is a book editor, literary coach, and lover of great writing. Follow her on Twitter (@turntopage2) or visit her blog.