Who would you call in an emergency?*

A few years ago we received a call from someone we know well who felt suddenly odd and asked Ellen and me to take her to the emergency room. She wasn’t sure it was an emergency, but she was concerned enough to call us. She told us not to worry, but she wanted to get checked out to remove any worry.

But her call did worry us and on the way to her house we thought the symptoms she described could have been the front edge of a stroke. Her mother suffered a massive stroke and a slow death a few years earlier. She had no preference of an emergency room, so we took her to the closest emergency room at a branch of a hospital that we have a lot of confidence in.

A hospital street sign image. How do you know it's the right one? (Image credit.)

A hospital street sign image. How do you know it’s the right one? (Image credit.)

Now we believe in hindsight that the woman who called us should have called 911 instead of us. But I’ll get to that later.

At any rate, after a few hours at this particular branch hospital, close to the caller’s home, early tests indicated that no major health issue was evident. However, they wanted to admit her overnight for observation. We stayed with her long enough to sense that she needed to sleep, so we drove home.

A few days later I called one of my doctors for an appointment. As is typical in so many doctors’ offices these days, a long recorded message ensued. One of the instructions was, “If this is an emergency, please hang up and dial 911.”

Sometime later I read in the paper that when a serious medical issue arises that patients should not call a family member or friend to take them to the ER, but that they should call 911. Reasons given for this now seem obvious. Family members are not trained to take patients to facilities that are best equipped to deal with certain emergencies. Facilities differ in their staffing and equipment for dealing with trauma, strokes, heart attacks, brain injuries, and so on. Emergency medical personnel know where to go for certain kinds of potentially serious issues. Family members and friends normally do not know these things.

When Ellen and I urged the woman to go to the hospital nearest her home, and she agreed, that could have been a fatal mistake. A quick examination by a medical emergency team may have suggested a different facility was needed, and the team could have begun treatment on the spot.

We simply did not know what was best for her in that situation. We may have given her terrible, fatal advice.

Hindsight is so clear. In a time of heightened emotion, or fear, decision-making may be particularly faulty. In health emergencies, such decision-making may be deadly.

My point: If you suspect a serious medical emergency, call 911. Period.

Having said that, I will also say if that woman calls us again to ask that we take her to the emergency room, we will certainly do it if she is not willing to call 911. She saw an earlier draft of this story, and she is forewarned. 🙂 

If this post gets someone to rethink the matter of who to call in an emergency, I will have done my good deed for the day.

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*Note:  I know “Who Would You Call?” has a grammatical error in it. To be accurate, it should have been “whom.” But sometimes the wrong word just sounds right.  🙂

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