I was wrapping up my day at the skilled nursing facility when, all of a sudden, my husband called and complained about some gastric pains. I wondered if he was trying to sneak in some extra dairy that day (he’s lactose intolerant). “Should I call 911?” he asked. Definitely, a loaded question…
“Well, tell me exactly what’s going on,” I said. After he downplayed his pain, I suggested that he contact his doctor for further guidance. When I get home, I see my husband collapsed on the floor. He’s pale, sweating and holding onto the side of his body where he said the pain was located.
“We are going to the ER!” I shouted. I grabbed our oldest son, his toothbrush and blanket and dropped him off at our neighbor’s. I took the baby and strapped him into the baby seat of the car. I was in crisis mode and there wasn’t much time for any hesitation. I ran back over to my neighbor’s house because there was no way I could get my husband into the car. When we got back to the garage, somehow my husband was in the car waiting for me patiently.
When we arrived at the hospital, the ER doctor reported, “Expect to be here for at least 2 hours. We’ve got to do some tests to find out what’s going on.” As we waited for test results, I rocked my baby to sleep while walking the hospital hallways. I noticed an elderly man pleading, “I need a room for my wife.” Unfortunately every room in the ER was filled up that night.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): “Adults 75 and over were more likely to have reported at least one ER visit in a 12-month period than younger people.” My husband is not 75-years-old yet, but immediately I started thinking about all the senior residents that had been admitted to the ER prior to their admission of a skilled nursing facility.
All of a sudden these stories came into my head:
1. My friend who also lives in the sandwich generation discovered that her mother was having trouble urinating. She refused to drink, refused to take any medications, and refused to see a doctor. Her stressed out daughter had no choice but to take her to the ER.
2. An 89-year-old woman got her slippers caught on her bathroom rug and fell. She lived alone and unable to reach anyone else for help, she called 911.
3. An 87-year-old woman fell at the grocery store and suffered a laceration on her left leg. After days she noticed her leg was not healing so she called 911.
If you happen to be living in the sandwich generation, do you know when your children and/or aging parents are in need of immediate medical attention? Do you know when it’s appropriate to call 911?
Here are 3 tips off the bat:
1. In any medical emergency, start with your family doctor. My husband was afraid to call 911 because he was uncertain whether it was a true emergency. My husband’s doctor did confirm that he must get to the hospital immediately, but calling 911 wasn’t necessary. The exception to this rule is when you don’t have time for your doctor to return your call, especially if the medical condition is time-sensitive.
2. Diagnosing some circumstances as emergencies are common sense, but sometimes when we are in “panic mode,” our judgments get a bit foggy. So, let me spell out some life threatening situations/symptoms:
- No breathing, shortness of breath, no pulse
- Unconsciousness, can’t be aroused, decreased level of consciousness
- Severe pain (my husband would have eventually needed to call 911 if I was unable to come home soon)
- Chest pain indicating the possibility of a heart attack
- Drug overdose
- Active bleeding
- Anaphylaxis shock
3. If your loved one has a specific medical condition that would most likely require immediate attention; you’ll know when it’s time to call 911. It’s ok to trust your gut. Just focus and act quickly.
It turns out that my husband had a kidney stone. The teeny tiny stone passed the very next day and life is good again. I have never witnessed that much severe pain in my husband. It’s quite amazing how quickly the doctors were able to help him feel better. I just want to say kudos to all those health care professionals who work in stressful ER situations and do it well.
What ER experiences have you or your aging parents gone through? Are you prepared if there is ever a next time? Please share your thoughts or tips by leaving a comment below.