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You Called 911, Now What? Stay Calm

By Kathy Hubbard

It’s very easy for me to tell you to stay calm when it’s you who’s looking at blood gushing from a wound or it’s your loved one who’s unable to breathe, but that’s exactly what I’m going to say. I know that you know that you should call 911, but do you know what to say when the call-taker answers?

Most likely, when you dial 911, the dispatcher will come on the line and say, “What is your emergency.” That’s when you say, “It’s a medical emergency.” And, as succinctly and clearly as possible, you should be able to describe what’s happening and to whom.

“Many 911 call centers follow protocols that guide callers through a sequence of questions to quickly obtain information necessary for dispatching the right responders to the right location. Call-takers may also provide instructions about what to do until help arrives,” explains the National 911 Program website, www.911.gov.

They acknowledge that the 911 caller may be under stress and not accustomed to dealing with emergencies, so that’s why you want to think about a few things when all is well in hopes that when all isn’t you know what to do.

First off, what constitutes an emergency worthy of a 911 call? The American College of Emergency Physicians says that if the answer to any of these questions is yes, call 911:

“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 distance or traffic cause a delay in getting the person to the hospital?”

Next, the dispatcher needs to know where you are. If you’re calling from a cellphone, they might not be able to track your exact location, so you’ll need to tell them. Tell them if you live down a dirt road that’s marking is a small sign posted on a tree. The more information you can give them, the easier it will be for emergency help to get to you and not be driving around looking for the avenue when you live on the lane.

The dispatcher will ask your name and for your phone number. It’s your job to follow all the instructions the dispatcher gives you, for instance, applying pressure to a bleeding wound or starting CPR.

If it’s nighttime be sure to turn on the outside lights and unlock the door that you told the dispatcher to tell the EMS to come through.

“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,” the ACEP says.

Do not hang up the phone until the call-taker tells you to do so. And, speaking of not hanging up, if for some reason you’ve called 911 by mistake stay on the line and explain to the dispatcher that everything is okay. Otherwise they may send out the police or fire department to investigate.

If you are the victim, don’t even think about driving yourself to the hospital. Only recently a neighbor of mine was experiencing chest pains and decided not to wake his wife or call for help. He died of a heart attack and his car hit a tree. His car could have hit another car, or worse yet a child. I won’t even speculate whether he would have survived if he called 911.

Chest pains, breathing difficulties, dizziness, severe headache, sudden confusion or vision changes, and bleeding from any orifice or wound is a medical emergency that needs emergency personnel. Call 911.

If you’re with the person who’s having these symptoms or others such as choking, severe burns, allergic reactions, poisoning or drug overdose you should realize that the symptoms could escalate and distract you from driving to the hospital. Call 911.

I hope you don’t ever need this information, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Bonner General Health staffs our Emergency Department 24/7/365 to serve you, but we’re happiest when you aren’t here!


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

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