Emergency & Trauma

September 29, 2023

How to prepare for a medical emergency: A paramedic’s 10 things you need to know before the ambulance is on the way

Most people do not know what to expect when calling 911. Here is guidance from someone who knows.

Megan Grahn poses for a photo on September 28, 2023. Photos by Donn Jones/Vanderbilt University Medical Center

Megan Grahn, NRP. Photo by Donn Jones.

I am a paramedic in the Pediatric Emergency Department at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. Before coming to VUMC, I worked as a paramedic in several communities, including Williamson County, and I’ve noticed that most people do not know what to expect when calling 911 or how to be prepared for a medical emergency.

While no one likes to think about themselves or a loved one experiencing an emergency, it is essential to be prepared. An accident or illness can strike anyone at any time.

Here are 10 things that emergency medical responders would like you to know in order to prepare for that situation that you hope never comes to pass – when an ambulance is on the way to your house.

  1. Please leave a clear walking path through and around your home so we can get to you quickly and safely with our equipment. If possible, please meet us at the door or outside so that you can be easily located and care can be started quickly. Also, please lock up any pets.
  2. Type or write down (in your best handwriting) a list of your medications, allergies and medical conditions. Keep it in your wallet, so it is always accessible at home or on the go. Let your family know it is there in case you become incapacitated. This way, we don’t waste time writing everything down. Be sure to keep the list up to date.
  3. If you have a valid advanced directive such as a DNR, POLST or medical power of attorney form, EMS must have either the signed original or a copy in our hands to honor it. Please keep these important documents easily accessible in case of an emergency. Keeping a copy in your wallet with your medication list may be wise if you’re not home during an emergency.
  4. Family members should be aware that medical power of attorney only goes into effect if the patient can no longer make their own decisions. Patients still possess autonomy when alive and coherent.
  5. The 911 dispatcher may ask many questions to promptly get you the best resources. While the dispatcher gathers and types your information into the computer, another communicates with first responders. Please remain calm and respectful. Their questioning will not delay the dispatch of EMS, the fire department or the police.
  6. All first responders want as many people as possible to learn CPR and basic first aid, especially if you have an ill family member, are a new parent or a babysitter. That knowledge can truly mean the difference between life and death while waiting for first responders to arrive.
  7. Review your health insurance. Ambulance services are often covered differently between plans, and some ERs may be out of network. Do your research beforehand and make a plan. Also, insurance often covers urgent care and walk-in clinics for non-life-threatening complaints.
  8. Different area hospitals have different specialties. For example, Vanderbilt is the area’s level 1 trauma and burn center. Vanderbilt Wilson County Hospital has been certified by the state as a fully designated Level 3 Trauma Center. Paramedics often recommend facilities based on severity of need and proximity to the facility.
  9. The Good Samaritan law provides immunity from arrest and prosecution for those experiencing or witnessing a drug overdose or underage alcohol intoxication if emergency services are summoned. Please tell us the truth so we can help you. You won’t be in trouble.
  10. Ensure your home and both sides of your mailbox are marked clearly with your house number so first responders can quickly identify your location.

Megan Grahn, NRP (nationally registered paramedic), works in the Pediatric Emergency Department at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.

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