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Are you prepared for a medical emergency?

We’ve all had the experience of walking down a street through a shopping mall, and uncomfortably watched as paramedics worked on someone who had apparently collapsed. There’s a small crowd gathered but we stay at a distance, glancing out of the corner of our eye afraid we might catch some mysterious disease or worse, be called upon to do something we find squeamish.  Was it a heart attack, allergic reaction or stroke? Was the person a diabetic? “Poor guy,” we mumble under our breath.  We shake our head and move on thinking to ourselves, “glad it wasn’t me.”

Well guess what? There’s a very good chance that someday it is going to be you!  According to the Center for Disease Control, there were 108 million visits to hospital emergency rooms in 2000, that’s up 14 percent from 1997.  For older Americans over 75 years of age (which hopefully will include most of us sooner or later), 65% are making at least one trip to the emergency room every year.

Sounds kind of depressing, yet there are things you can do to improve your chances for survival in an emergency situation.  What’s more, there  are  a number of things you can do to prevent that unpleasant scenario from becoming an even worse experience for your family and loved ones.

Let’s say you step into the street. Before you can say “uh-oh’, somebody on a cell phone, eating a slice of pizza and driving a small Geo Metro, considers you a minor speed bump and drives over you.  You are now unconscious on the street.  Someone calls 911.  A few people begin to hover over you.  If you’re lucky, a paramedic arrives on the scene before some well-intentioned passer-by accidentally does more damage.  At this point, things are pretty much out of your hands.

Which brings us to the topic of this whole article – preparing for a medical emergency.  You might argue that you have no way of knowing in what kind of emergency you might find yourself.  That’s true, yet it doesn’t hurt to prepare yourself for the worst-case result of any emergency- being unable to speak at all.

Ask yourself, what can you do to prevent an emergency?  Start by reducing the odds.  Wear your seat-belt while driving.  Don’t drink and drive.  Wear a helmet when riding a bicycle, motorcycle  or other velocity enhanced activity.  Stop smoking.  Change the batteries in your smoke detector.  Take any prescribed medications on schedule.  Know your physical limits.  Do ask for help before you exceed them.

Back to our auto accident in the street.  You’re lying on the ground and the paramedic arrives.  If you’re unconscious, the attending paramedic will look for any clues that might help him or her determine the cause of your condition.  A medic alert bracelet for example, can alert him to any specific drug allergies or diseases you might have.  If nothing else, write this info down on the back of a business card and attach it to your license.  Paramedics won’t sift through all your personal belongings so be certain this kind of information is obvious when they go looking for your driver’s license.  These kinds of medical alert identifiers can save valuable time and possibly your life.  Make sure you include medical information like allergies and the names of any prescriptions you might be taking.  Include your doctors name and phone number and a primary emergency contact.

Very few people anticipate all of the things that could possibly go wrong.  What if your loved ones find you in a coma for five or ten years?  Can you pay for it?  Do you want your kids or spouse to be burdened with a life or death decision that you chickened out of ?  You could also consider the four or five people who could benefit from your eyes, liver, intestines and kidneys.  The fact remains, most people don’t even want to think about death.  So what happens, is that hospital personnel let your relatives make those kinds of choices for you.  Imagine how many nasty family feuds you could be responsible for!

That’s why advanced directives or living wills are just as much a part of medical emergency preparedness as the first-aid kit.  Advance directives are simply your instructions as to how you want your own medical treatment to proceed in case you are unable to speak for yourself.  The ramifications of these decisions are serious indeed, and should be discussed with your closest family members.  Talk about various scenarios.  Do you want to be resuscitated if you stop breathing – even if you have terminal cancer?  Will your attitude change over time?  You bet it will, so it makes sense to update your living will every couple of years – that goes for your alert bracelet or Medical Medallion as well.  Be alert to changes in your state about Good Samaritan laws, Living Wills and donor registration programs.  Policies towards these issues vary widely from state to state.

How do you prepare for a medical emergency?  Reduce the chances of being the reason for one.  Then do what you can to help others help you- by making it easier for them to learn your health condition.  Finally, save you family from unnecessary pain and suffering by not forcing them make the hard decisions that you should make for yourself. – Gary paul Bryant