It’s 2020 and we’ve been on high alert for months since the COVID-19 outbreak. With a threat to our health and safety being the defining point of the year, it can feel like everything is an emergency. If you’re losing sleep at night because you’re hyper-vigilant of threats to you and your family’s health, such as the Coronavirus, then it’s time to get organized. You can do that by creating an emergency plan that helps you feel prepared for anything.
It started just like any other day but quickly took a scary turn. I never imagined that anything like this would happen to me. An appointment with one of my favorite clients turned into an emergency. Until faced with such a predicament, you don’t know how you will react. Luckily, this time, I knew exactly what to do and I acted quickly. My emergency preparation skills and quick actions saved a life.
My client is a remarkable woman with an unforgettable presence who lives her life by her own rules. We met 30 years ago when she enrolled as a student in one of my programs. She always reminded me of the huge red sign that hung in my classroom, shouting the words “Do it Now!” She would often come back to that message whenever she found herself delaying something.
Over the years I grew to know her well. She was in her early 90’s by now, still as vibrant as the day we met. She had a long celebrated career as a brilliant educator and worked as the head of a literacy program at a major university.
Raised by her father and four older sisters, after her mother died right in front of her when she was three. Her life was quite fascinating. She often regaled me with enchanting memories of her childhood, growing up on the Lower East Side of New York, and tales of her exciting life as a single woman. She was as sweet as she was sharp and as stern as she was forgiving. I became used to how she was quick to challenge me if my opinions we’re not rooted in fact.
I think everyone needs a Margaret in their life. That is why I am so grateful that I knew exactly what to do the day she almost died.
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Why You Need an Emergency Plan
The moment I stepped into her apartment, I could tell something was terribly wrong. She was clutching her arm and admitted to being in excruciating pain. The pain was focused along her right arm but quickly moved up into her back and chest. She struggled to speak and the pain was increasing. I recognized the signs. She was having a heart attack. I needed to react, immediately! My first thought was to call 911.
Even in her state, she begged me not to call. She wanted to wait for her personal doctor, who would be returning on Monday, 3 days later. There was no time to wait. My instincts kicked in. Years of experience, working as an organizer had me prepared for just about anything. I did what I needed, to get help, and save her life.
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What to Do in an Emergency
Knowing what to do in an emergency like this can mean the difference between life and death. An emergency plan saves lives. It’s unlikely that you will ever be in a similar situation, but it still could happen. Whether it happens to you or someone you know, as in my case, you want to be prepared. By having an emergency plan, you are calmer and can take control of the situation.
With the current state of our world, it can feel like an emergency situation is even more likely to happen to us. Although we can’t stop bad things from happening, we can definitely be prepared to handle them by creating an emergency plan.
Here are just a few ideas on how you can respond like a pro in any emergency:
Call for help immediately! Grab your phone and call 911. Do this regardless of what anyone says. Margaret wanted me to wait. Don’t ever wait. She would have died had I not called 911. The EMS team quickly arrived and this saved her life. Follow your gut instincts and do what needs to be done. It’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to an emergency. The EMS confirmed that she was in the middle of having a heart attack. Getting professional help quickly is the most important thing when dealing with any kind of emergency.
Now, an emergency won’t always take place in your house or someone else’s house, but if it does, be prepared to leave as soon as the EMS arrives. In my case, I made sure to collect all the necessary items that she would need. This included house keys, insurance card, a credit card, a small amount of cash, contact information, medicine, or a medicine list. I chose to leave her bag and any valuables at home and just take the necessities. I also included her small address book, in case there was anyone to contact, reading glasses, and something to read. This was all prepared before the EMS team arrived and ensured that she had everything she needed with her.
Tend to the Emergency
When someone is having a medical emergency, you want to make sure that they are comfortable until help arrives. After calling 911, assure that the person is seated (a half seated position with knees bent while the back and shoulders are supported) is best for heart attacks. Do not let them walk around or move too much, as this could cause more damage. Also, if possible, don’t let them eat or drink anything until a medical practitioner arrives (there are some exceptions for prescribed medication).
If the person is unconscious, check to see whether their airway is open and that they can breathe. Gently turn them onto their side if needed to keep their airway open. I made sure that she was comfortable and stable before preparing all her things. Since I was alone, I opened the front door, so that EMS could quickly gain access.
Recognize the Signs
If I had not known the signs of a heart attack, I may not have called 911. There will be different signs for various medical emergencies. Wounds and bleeding caused by accidents are quite common, but it is the medical conditions without obvious signs that are most dangerous.
An emergency situation due to COVID-19 may be more difficult to spot. Even if you’re not 100% sure, it’s better to get help. This is especially important if the person is having difficulty breathing, has a high fever, lips that are going blue, or loses consciousness.
Besides this, two of the most fatal medical emergencies that require immediate attention are a heart attack and a stroke.
How to Recognize the Symptoms of a Heart Attack
- Pressure and tightness in the chest or pain in the arms.
- A squeezing or aching sensation in the chest or back.
- Nausea, indigestion, or heartburn.
- Abdominal pain.
- Shortness of breath or labored breathing.
- Cold sweat.
- Light-headedness, sudden dizziness, or fainting.
How to Recognize the Symptoms of a Stroke
Neurologists can save a stroke victim’s life and even completely reverse the effects of the stroke. However, this is only possible if treatment occurs within three hours from the time of the stroke. This means a stroke must be recognized immediately so that the person can get the care they need. Certain acronyms can be used to remember the signs.
- Smile – ask the person to smile – if unable to smile normally it indicates a problem.
- Talk – ask the person to speak a simple sentence – incoherent speech indicates a stroke.
- Raise both arms – an inability to raise one of their arms means there is something wrong.
The NSA has another acronym to use when identifying a stroke. FAST:
- F – Facial weakness.
- A – Arm weakness.
- S – Speech difficulties.
- T – Time to call 911 as they need treatment immediately.
Any one of these symptoms is reason enough to call 911, as the person needs help as soon as possible to avoid permanent damage or death.
How to Respond to a Heart Attack or Stroke
If the person is in a serious condition and the expected EMS arrival time is lengthy, take specific actions to help them survive.
For a heart attack, get the person seated in a supported position with knees bent. Loosen any tight-fitting clothing that may affect breathing. Find out if the person is on any medication, such as nitroglycerin for a heart condition. If they are, help them take it as it may improve survival. If not, get aspirin from the medicine cabinet to let them chew and swallow it. These are the only things that a person should ingest during a heart attack.
For a stroke, make sure the person is seated so that they don’t fall and hurt themselves. Take note of the time that the first symptoms appeared, as this will be important for treatment. Do not let the person fall asleep. They should not ingest any food, drinks, or medication at all. Apply ice packs on the body, especially near the neck and head to slow down blood flow and possibly prevent some damage.
In both cases, CPR may need to be performed. This would only be done if the person is unconscious and stops breathing. CPR can keep them alive until help arrives. Taking a CPR class will help you feel even more prepared in a scenario like this.
Have a First Aid Kit
Although most people don’t carry emergency supplies with them, it never hurts to have a first aid kit on hand. Keep a first aid bag in the car or carry a small one in a handbag or backpack. Each household should definitely have a first aid kit that is regularly stocked with the basic medical emergency supplies. A first aid kit should have an emergency manual, sterile gauze pads, adhesive tape, bandages, a splint, antiseptic wipes, antibiotics, aspirin, ibuprofen, prescription medication, instant cold packs, latex gloves, a CPR mouthpiece, and a blanket.
Besides calling for help, this is one of the most important tips. Emergencies can easily cause panic, which leads to indecision. Pause. Take a few deep breaths. Calm yourself down before you respond. This may seem counterintuitive but you will be more helpful if you are calm and collected. By calmly taking action, you will reassure the person having an emergency and keep them relaxed as well. You are prepared with an emergency plan and know what to do. Trust yourself.
This was just an average workday for me and an appointment I was looking forward to. You never know what situation you may find yourself in at any given time. Emergencies are unpredictable and can happen at any time. Never underestimate the value of being prepared and having an emergency plan. It may just help you save a life too!
And So it Goes
Margaret’s emergency happened three years ago. She died suddenly, exactly one year ago this month. I was away on vacation. When I returned, I tried to reach her numerous times to see how she was. Finally, after a week, I called the building where she lived and spoke with the doorman, who knew me well. I didn’t have a good feeling and my stomach was in knots. I thought the worst. That’s when I found out that Margaret passed away while I was out of town. I was crushed, I’m still devastated, I miss her every day. She was like an adoring aunt.
Emergencies can happen at any time and that’s why it’s always better to be prepared with an emergency plan. I’m grateful that I was able to give her a few more years of her life, after her heart attack, three years ago. Margaret gave me abundance.
*In loving memory of Margaret
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I’m so sorry that you lost your friend, but it’s wonderful that she had a long and rewarding life, and that she had you around to help her live as long as she did. Very good lessons here!
Yes, Margaret did have a long life. At the end though, it didn’t seem long enough for me. I’m so lucky to have known this remarkable woman. She gave me so much, so the least I could do was give her a few more years. I’m so glad that it turned out the way
it did that day.
Great informative post! Having an emergency plan is so important, especially when you are older and living alone. Taking the time now and setting up a plan will not only help you but also help your family and dependents when you are not around. It gives them guidance on where things are and what to do.
I knew Margaret well because we spent so much time together over many, many years. I knew where she kept all her important papers, her little black pocketbook with her insurance cards, her notebook and address book. Luckily, I had cash on me so I didn’t have to worry about that.
I’m usually pretty good in an emergency and know what to do. This though was a first!
What a rough situation to walk into. I know I would feel conflicted if my friend or client was telling me not to call 911, so I feel more confident having read this that sometimes we have to override a desire if we know there is an emergency that requires our action. Thinking ahead to having a bag ready to go into the ambulance is very helpful, as is knowing to have a stroke patient sit and apply ice packs. One thing I have found helpful with ER trips is to bring along your charging cord. Inevitably you want to communicate with loved ones, and then the phone batteries dies. Sorry for your loss of dear Margaret. She sounds like a terrific lady, who used her time here to be a blessing. Wonderful advice here!
Thank you for your beautiful response. It almost made me cry. It was tough to override Margaret. But I knew it had to be done and I was afraid if I didn’t, she might not live through the night. I’d always rather take a chance and be wrong in a situation like this. If it didn’t turn out to be as dire as it was, well then, so what? Much better than the other way around.
She was a blessing to everyone. I can still hear her voice and her beautiful messages. She is someone to be dearly missed.
Ronni, this is a lovely tribute to Margaret. She was as lucky to have you in her life as, I believe, you were to have her. You are correct that everyone needs to know the small things to do to help that can have huge impacts. I really like the list of things you say to gather while waiting for the emergency responders to arrive. That’s good to remember.
Thank you, Diane! As I said in the article, everyone should have a Margaret in their life. She was a gift and I am so blessed to have known her for as long as I did. At least I can celebrate her life right now.
I did remember, during the emergency, how important it is to gather a few things you need to take with you. Luckily, I knew where everything was.
I’ve taken many first responder classes over the years and it’s time to renew my card! You’re absolutely right, we’ve all faced some sort of emergency situation this year and it’s a good reminder to refresh our skills and build the right kits to be prepared. When you’re faced with a stressful situation with no time to think, a list or memorized protocol will literally save a life.
Just knowing the basics, even to stay calm while calling 911 will make a difference. I think all of the infomercials, commercials and ads have paid off. I remembered more than I thought I would.
What an informative and important post, and your story of Margaret really underscores the value of your recommendations. So often we think “that will never happen to me”, but it’s so much better to think “If this happened to me, what would I do?” I think a lot of the ordinary people who do heroic things when placed in emergency situations are able to do what they do because they were prepared, and preparation allows you to act thoughtfully and calmly.
The important thing to know about an emergency is to be prepared. Just as you said. And then if you stay calm, everything will fall into place. Someone’s life may be in your hands, so it’s good to know what to do and take charge.
My heart goes out to you, Ronni. My deepest sympathy for your loss. Your description of Margaret, the wonderful person she was, and your lovely longstanding relationship is beautiful. What a gift to have someone like Margaret in your life. And I’m guessing she felt the same way about you. Take good care of yourself. Extra love and hugs.
Thank you, Linda for your kind words. Margaret was definitely one of a kind. She was a beautiful friend and our friendship spanned many decades. She will surely be missed.
Much appreciation for your sweet thoughts. I know you would’ve loved her too.