Emergencies are scary. Brian Edwards, Chief of Emergency Medical Services, talks about what takes place when you call 911 . . . and how you can help first responders help you.
What happens when I call 911?
A dispatcher decides which EMS agency is in the best geographic position to respond. While the ambulance is on its way, the dispatcher stays on the line asking you questions – and sends that information directly to the ambulance crew as you’re talking. It’s important to stay on the line because the information you give the dispatcher is being given to the paramedics as they travel to you.
The dispatcher also tells you what to do until the ambulance arrives – everything from CPR and opening an airway to collecting medications and putting away the family dog.
Whether you call from a cell phone or a landline, it doesn’t affect response time or procedures.
What happens when the ambulance arrives?
Paramedics make a medical assessment, checking vital signs, illness or injury, blood sugar level and heart activity (via EKG). The crew’s “first-in bag” is stocked with equipment to start immediate care, including a heart monitor and oxygen.
The paramedics talk with the patient and observe the environment, gathering clues about the medical problem. Even when patients give details of what’s troubling them, paramedics look for signs that tell them more.
There may be treatment paramedics can do immediately – for pain, asthma, allergic reactions, heart rate that’s too slow or fast, low blood pressure. Paramedics are in constant contact with the hospital Emergency Department during an ambulance call.
If you need hospital care, paramedics will transport you to the hospital best equipped to care for you. Most of the time, in our region, that’s Northfield Hospital. For more critical care, that may mean another hospital: a Level 1 trauma center; a pediatric specialty hospital; a cardiac or neurological care hospital. Also, you can ask paramedics to take you to the hospital you choose.
What’s most critical during a medical emergency?
Information, and time.
You can help by having medical documents on hand: A list of all your medications. Your latest EKG. Your health care directive. Prepare now, to be ready in an emergency.
A Vial of Life kit helps organize your information. Keep it posted on your refrigerator, in the pink envelope; paramedics are trained to look for it. You can download a free Vial of Life kit at www.vialoflife.com, or get one at EMS headquarters.
Time is crucial in medical care. Paramedics begin medical care on the scene and while driving, so the Emergency Department can take over right away when the ambulance arrives. (Driving yourself may take the same amount of time, but paramedics can coordinate your care en route.)
Sometimes patients are embarrassed to answer questions, or they don’t trust paramedics as a healthcare provider. We want to get you the most appropriate care, as quickly as possible, with dignity and respect.