When To Call 911 For A Medical Emergency

Despite all the prevention tips (I know I’ve given you a ton of them over the years) accidents will happen. Surely, this upcoming Fourth of July will be no different. We expect there to be more fireworks injuries, but this weekend will also produce more automobile accidents, swimming incidents, food borne illnesses plus various and sundry other medical emergencies.

What defines a medical emergency? “A medical emergency is an event that you reasonable believe threatens your or someone else’s life or limb in such a manner that immediate medical care is needed to prevent death or serious impairment of health,” says the American College of Emergency Physicians.

“A medical emergency includes severe pain, bad injury, a serious illness, or a medical condition that is quickly getting much worse. To help you decide if you should call 911 answer these questions as best you can. Is the condition life or limb threatening? Could the condition worsen quickly on the way to the hospital? If you move the victim, will it cause further injury? Does the person need skills or equipment that paramedics or EMTs carry right away? Would the distance or traffic cause a delay in getting the person to the hospital? If the answer is yes to any of these, call 911.”

If you think you’re going to transport someone to the hospital yourself, first stop and ask yourself these questions: Am I legally sober? Am I emotionally stable enough to drive a car? Will I be able to handle it if the victim passes out, has a seizure or other issue while I’m driving? If the answer is no to any of these, call 911.

What if you’re not sure? Call 911 and explain the situation to the dispatcher. They are trained to advise you. As Mother always said, “it’s better to be safe than sorry” and that’s what they’re there for.

The ACEP says to call 911 immediately if you are experiencing any of the following:

  • Severe difficulty breathing, especially that does not improve with rest
  • Chest pain
  • A fast heartbeat (more than 120-150) at rest especially if associated with shortness of breath or feeling faint
  • You witness someone faint/pass out or someone is unresponsive
  • Difficulty speaking, numbness, or weakness of any part of the body
  • Sudden dizziness, weakness or mental changes (confusion, very odd behavior, difficulty walking
  • Sudden blindness or vision changes
  • Heavy bleeding from your mouth, nose, vagina or bottom
  • Bleeding from any wound that won’t stop with direct pressure
  • Broken bones visible through an open wound, or a broken leg
  • Drowning
  • Choking
  • Severe burns
  • Allergic reaction, especially if there is any difficulty breathing
  • Extreme hot or cold
  • Poisoning or drug overdose
  • New severe headache
  • Sudden intense pain
  • Someone is threatening to hurt or kill themselves or someone else

The dispatcher will ask you what happened and where are you. Be specific about your location if you’re using your cellphone because the dispatcher can’t track you like they can if you use a land line. They’ll also ask for your name and phone number. Stay on the line until the dispatcher tells you to hang up.

With that in mind, if you call 911 by accident stay on the line, do NOT hang up until you’ve told the dispatcher that everything is okay. Otherwise, a police officer or the fire department will be dispatched.

While you’re waiting for an emergency responder, perform any first aid that the dispatcher has recommended. Turn on the lights to your house to make it easier for the ambulance to find you. Unlock the door.

“If you or the other person has Advanced Directives, power of attorney or other legal documents about their wishes for care from the paramedics or hospital, please have these ready when help arrives,” ACEP says.

I hope you don’t need this information this holiday weekend and that instead you have a fun, food and family filled Fourth of July! Enjoy the summer safely.

Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at 264-4029 or kathyleehubbard@yahoo.com.