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Mistakes to Avoid During a Health Emergency

Posted by Elise on October 24, 2015


There are no two ways about it—medical emergencies fill us with fright, confusion and sometimes panic. While you may think that you can’t prepare for an unexpected health crisis, the truth is that you can—and should.

Whether you’re dealing with a stroke, heart attack or even a relatively minor injury such as a broken ankle, the consequences of not being prepared can be quite serious. In the most extreme cases, it can result in a preventable medical error, which studies show is a leading cause of death in the US.

Below are four common mistakes that patients make during the first 24 hours—and simple steps you can take to avoid them…

MISTAKE #1: Not calling 911. In the first moments of a health crisis, it’s hard to know what to do. Simply render aid? Call 911? Or load the patient in the car and take him/her to the hospital yourself?

 What to consider…

What’s the nature of the problem? If it’s a minor injury to a limb (arm or leg) or an extremity (hand or foot), it’s generally less urgent than an injury to the head or torso, where vital organs are located. (Note: If bleeding from a limb or extremity won’t stop even when pressure is applied or there is a very long or deep cut, the situation may be serious and warrants a 911 call.)

If there’s no visible injury but the person is experiencing troubling symptoms, be sure to pay close attention. Does he have unexplained shortness of breath? Is he clammy and cold or faint and dizzy? (All are potential heart attack signs.) Is the pain getting worse? Does he appear to be having an acute allergic reaction or asthma attack? Any of these scenarios could become life-threatening and should prompt an immediate call to 911.

If the patient is stable, talking coherently and none of the above symptoms are present, it’s helpful to call the patient’s primary care physician and ask if the situation can be handled in an office visit. If you can’t reach the doctor or you have any doubts, call 911.

What’s the age and health status of the patient? If you’re dealing with someone who’s in his 70s or older and/or has a chronic condition such as diabetes, heart disease or cancer, it’s best to err on the side of caution and call 911 if there is any question whether the person requires emergency treatment.

MISTAKE #2: Heading to the wrong hospital. When a patient realizes that he is at a hospital that simply doesn’t have the expertise and resources to properly render care, it can require dozens of phone calls over days and pushback from the insurance company to get a transfer to another hospital. Instead, get to the right hospital the first time. Here’s how…

Before there’s ever an emergency, check to see if you have a designated “trauma center” in your area. An emergency room is considered a trauma center when it has the manpower and technology to handle the worst physical injuries—such as those from car crashes, high falls, etc. There are five different levels of trauma centers—a Level I center has the most resources, while a Level V center would provide basic trauma care. To find out if you have a trauma center near you, go to

If your condition is not life-threatening, you can ask the ambulance driver to take you to your preferred hospital. If he resists, request that the driver contact his supervisor for permission. However, if it’s a true emergency, such as a heart attack, you should be taken to the closest ER available.

Important: When you reach an emergency department (or even while in transit, if possible), call your doctor. This will enable the medical staff to more accurately place your diagnosis in the context of your medical history. Note: If you have the choice of going to a trauma center (not all locations will have one) or the hospital where your doctor has privileges (meaning he has been cleared to use the hospital’s facilities), you need to consider the specific situation. For example, if it’s a chronic problem that might require a lengthy stay, having your primary care physician present becomes more important. If you’ve been in a car accident, a trauma center is likely better.

MISTAKE #3: Not communicating clearly. Once you’re at the emergency room, you (or your loved one) will need to convey a lot of information fast. And that might not be so easy. What helps…

Don’t assume that electronic medical records will be in place. In this age of electronic medical records, that advice to carry an up-to-date medical information card in your wallet is no longer valid, right? Oh yes, it is! The electronic medical record systems of many hospitals and doctors’ offices are not compatible at this point, so it’s still wise to have that card with you at all times. Be sure to include any allergies, chronic conditions such as asthma or diabetes, medications (and dosages) and phone numbers for emergency contacts.

Make sure you are heard. Studies show that the average ER patient gets interrupted after 12 seconds of explaining his symptoms. For the best care, it’s crucial to give the medical staff your full range of symptoms and medical history, so be clear and detailed. Also, be assertive if you are interrupted and let your needs be known.

MISTAKE #4: Giving up your power. When illness strikes you or a family member, it’s easy to believe that if you simply obey the doctors and nurses, all will be well. Not so. The patient is ultimately in charge of his own health destiny. What helps…

Find out who is treating you. If you’re at a teaching hospital, it can be difficult to tell whether it’s an attending physician, a resident or an intern who might be working in the emergency room. It’s perfectly reasonable to ask, “Could you tell me what your title is?” If your health issue is complex, politely request to be examined by the attending physician. This way, you’ll be sure to have a doctor who has completed his training (and is actually supervising the others) caring for you.

Don’t forget your records. By federal law, all your medical records belong to you. Before you’re discharged after an ER visit, ask for copies of all of your medical records in case you encounter complications down the road and the doctors treating you need to know your medical history. The cost for these copies varies by state.

Source: Leslie D. Michelson, founder and CEO of Los Angeles–based Private Health Management, a consultancy that partners with physicians to develop state-of-the-art treatment plans for clients dealing with medical emergencies and complex conditions and coordinates all medical and logistical aspects of their care. He is the author of The Patient’s Playbook: How to Save Your Life and the Lives of Those You Love.


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Toothache Relief

Posted by Elise on March 15, 2013

Cieleke (

Cieleke (



Ouch! Do you have a nagging toothache? And the dentist can’t see you till when? Calm the throbbing with nature’s painkiller—cloves. Read the rest of this entry »

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Fainting First Aid

Posted by Elise on February 20, 2013

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neyl (

Why People Faint

Fainting is a frightening experience—especially when you don’t know the cause.

What you may not realize:

 Up to half of all Americans will faint at least once during their lives.

The cause is often relatively harmless, such as standing up too quickly, getting overheated, becoming dehydrated, receiving bad news or experiencing intense fear. You can even faint when a vigorous cough stimulates nerves that trigger a decrease in blood pressure and brain circulation. But in some cases, fainting can be a red flag for a potentially serious medical condition that affects your heart, lungs or nervous system. Read the rest of this entry »

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Asthma Attack Survival Without an Inhaler

Posted by Elise on January 25, 2013

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(© Jenny Rollo)
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If you have asthma, then you know how scary it can be when you have an attack and have trouble breathing for anywhere from a few minutes to a few days, depending on its severity.

So you’re probably careful to keep your rescue inhaler with you at all times—in case of an emergency.

But what happens if an attack starts and you discover that your inhaler is empty or you don’t actually have it??

How can you lessen the severity of an asthma attack and/or stop it altogether without your trusty inhaler?

To find out, I called Richard Firshein, DO, director and founder of The Firshein Center for Comprehensive Medicine in New York City and author of Reversing Asthma: Breathe Easier with This Revolutionary New Program. And he had some very interesting advice… Read the rest of this entry »

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Symptoms That Can Save Your Life

Posted by Elise on July 13, 2011

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Red Flag Warnings:

Some symptoms are signs of a true emergency — but we put off getting prompt medical attention, thinking that if we wait a bit, they will go away. Here, symptoms never to ignore…


The following symptoms can indicate a potential emergency. Call for an ambulance (usually 911). If one is not available, have someone drive you to an emergency room. Read the rest of this entry »

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Run and Not be Weary; Walk and Not Faint

Posted by Elise on June 23, 2010


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Get Fit in Just a Few Minutes

 Lack of time is a primary reason people give for failing to get the recommended 30 to 60 minutes of moderate intensity exercise most days of the week. Admittedly, it can be tough to find such a big chunk of time in your busy schedule.

What helps: Instead of feeling compelled to cram an entire day’s worth of exercise into a single block of time, commit to fitting in little bursts of physical activity — two minutes, five minutes, 10 minutes — Read the rest of this entry »

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Take Care

Posted by Elise on November 16, 2009

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Riley M. Lorimer, “Take Care,” New Era, Jul 2007, 34–37

You only get one body. Here are some tips for taking care of yours.

Elliot Grow had it made.  The summer before his senior year of high school, he was an aspiring lacrosse player with a promising future, and it looked like he just might land a starting spot on his school’s basketball team as well.  But calamity struck for Elliot one day in June when Read the rest of this entry »

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Idea List: A Healthier You

Posted by Elise on October 16, 2009

Idea List: A Healthier You,” New Era, Nov 2006

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Taking care of your body is good for both your physical and your spiritual health. Here are a few small things you can do regularly to improve your health. Read the rest of this entry »

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