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A Practical Guide To Dealing With Family Health Emergencies

This year alone we have had around a dozen phone calls to deal with one emergency or another. It feels like ever since college I’ve been prepared, down to a packed bag and ready to go hospital kit. It’s not because we’re accident prone or have unusual health needs.

I have an older father and elderly relatives who rely on my immediate family for support. Why? Because my family knows what to do and what needs to be done when facing a hospital stay. But I wasn’t always this prepared.

A Practical Guide To Dealing With Family Health Emergencies

I was in college as a Junior the first time I got the call.

It’s not a fun one to get.

My mother called me and told me that my dad had gone to the hospital. It’s been long enough that the events are fuzzy. What I can tell you now is that my father had a small heart attack and congestive heart failure. This resulted in fluid on his lungs. The kicker? He never had that seizing pain or any of the symptoms you would otherwise expect from a heart attack patient. For all we know he had his heart attack while driving, continued on home for a couple hundred miles while fluid built up and then to the hospital he went.

I remember sitting in the waiting room with my grandmothers and we kept remembering things that needed to be done. Animals that should have been fed. Bills to pay. Daily things that needed to happen. And then there were all the doctor’s notes. Getting food. What about clothes, a tooth brush, deodorant, money for the vending machine.

There are a hundred little things you don’t think about when it comes to emergency situations that require even a short hospital stay. Over the last ten years my family and I have this down to an art form, sad to say. At some point we’ve each needed the rest of the family to fill the role of captaining the hospital stay. Below are a few tips and tricks to covering all your bases. I hope and pray you never need them.

Your go bag.

At any hour of the day or night if I get the call, I have a bag I can pick up and walk out the door with. This contains the following:

  • fuzzy socks
  • a light jacket
  • small blanket
  • travel pillow
  • yoga pants
  • tank top
  • clean underwear
  • essential toiletry kit (tooth brush, tooth paste, deodorant, wet wipes)
  • small bills and coins
  • refillable water bottle
  • notebook
  • pen

We all have things that are special to us. I’ve reached the point that I can work remotely from anywhere, at any time. In addition to the above I also grab my:

  • laptop
  • charger
  • phone cord
  • lap desk
  • wireless mouse

You never know how many hours you’ll need to wait through or days you’ll spend if you’re facing a truly medical emergency. It’s always best to be prepared.

Take notes.

Let me preface the rest of this by saying that today’s medical personnel are amazing. That said, they are still human. Errors are made. And once you get into the territory where you take multiple medications, sometimes things happen. One doctor doesn’t tell another that something isn’t okay.

We have learned the hard way to ensure that if our sick loved one cannot take notes themselves, someone is with them at all hours to take notes on their care, medication and other items. Being in the hospital, undergoing a traumatic event, makes your head spin. Unless you’ve got a serious memory, take notes. High emotions make people forget things, and doctors making split second decisions can forget or make mistakes as well. Document what’s going on.

Have a list of current medications.

My father in particular has a lengthy list of medications he takes. I cannot begin to explain how crucial this has been when walking into an emergency department to have an extra list of these medications, and perhaps a few doses on hand. Not every doctor or every hospital will have fast access to that information, and let’s face it, some of these drug names are really long and complicated.

A family member was undergoing a procedure and the doctors insisted that they needed to be taken off all medications. This resulted in fluctuating heart rates that got so far out of control we thought we would lose them. The real issue? This person can’t be 100% taken off one medication. If we hadn’t had the list and pills on hand to give to them immediately I’m not sure they’d still be here.

Life goes on.

One of the hardest things to do when sitting bedside with a loved one is that the rest of the world continues on. Bills must be paid. Obligations met. To this end my immediate family all have their expenses on spreadsheets. We can share the around so that if one of us gets sick or hurt, the others can pick up and make sure that everything is accounted for and taken care of.

It’s my sincerest hope that no one ever needs this. It isn’t a ground breaking list of things to do or have with you, but sometimes you don’t think about the necessities until it’s too late. I’ve been caught unprepared once, and I’d like to not have that happen again.

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