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Emergency Preparedness

What should I prepare for?

People with cancer sometimes have serious, even life-threatening unexpected events. These can be caused by the disease or treatment. You are less likely to be surprised by emergencies if you’ve learned about the person’s illness and know what to expect and what to watch for. You’re also less likely to be caught off guard if you stay informed about expectations of the disease, common complications, and adverse events from their medications or chemotherapy.

How can I prepare for emergencies?

Some caregivers prepare a notebook or checklist so that, if ever needed, all materials are collected in one location.

There are lots of ways to prepare:

  • Make sure that the patient’s phone has important emergency numbers on “speed dial," including 911, yourself, other family, friends and support people, healthcare providers, and neighbors.
  • Know where and who to call in the evening and on weekends.
  • Know the nearest hospital or patient’s preferred hospital. (Emergency Department and Urgent Care)
  • Make sure the patient has an emergency pack ready with his or her detailed medication list, medical insurance cards, identification, medical allergies, Social Security number, and emergency contact information (Medicare card if applicable). Include water for both the patient and yourself.
  • Make sure you have a “Caregiver Go Bag” ready in advance so that you have what you need in case of an unexpected emergency room visit. Items to pack: phone charger, change of clothes, healthy snacks, and anything that may help pass the time during long waits (books, a deck of cards). Caregiver Action Network has some tips for an effective emergency room visit.
  • Keep a list of important names and numbers handy. Include the patient’s healthcare providers (by role), home healthcare agencies, local caregivers, and the patient’s other family, friends, neighbors, or support people and local clergy.
  • Keep a list of medical conditions and a list of allergies.
  • Keep an up-to-date medication record for the patient on hand in case you need to speak with his or her healthcare providers.
  • Know the adverse events for the patient’s medications. Know what signs or symptoms should be provided to health care providers.
  • Know what to watch for, early signs of a serious problem.
  • If you have a Healthcare Proxy, keep a copy with you. The Healthcare Proxy shows your legal power to make medical decisions if the patient can’t.
  • Have a list of banks and financial counselors and set up a financial power of attorney.
  • Be sure you have the exact address of the patient in case you need to call an ambulance for him or her. Be prepared to tell emergency services how to enter the home and where a key is, if necessary.
  • Set up a phone tree to keep people in the patient’s support network up-to-date.
  • Know the health care services in the community.

What if I live far away?

If you are caring for a loved one from far away, be sure to have an emergency plan in place regardless if you feel one is needed. Unexpected emergencies happen, be prepared. This can reduce the stress and anxiety for the patient, other caregivers, and yourself.

  • Have a designated backup emergency contact who is within a short distance of the patient.
  • Ensure you have the emergency contact numbers (home, cell, work).
  • Talk with other caregivers on the emergency list often to keep them updated on the patient’s status changes so they can be prepared.
  • The designated emergency backup person should know where the emergency packet of information is so they can quickly retrieve it.
  • Keep the emergency packet in the same place and be sure to update this information frequently or as changes are made to care.
  • Have systems in place so that the patient can reach you or others in an emergency, a call system such as LifeAlert.
  • Be accessible and keep your phone with you.
  • Make sure the patient knows how to reach you at all times.
  • If you are not available for calls, be sure the patient knows this, and they know who to call for backup in an emergency or other mechanisms to reach you

When do I call 911?

Call 911 if you know that the patient:

  • Is unconscious, confused, delirious, and/or hallucinating
  • Has severe chest pain
  • Has severe abdominal pain
  • Is having trouble breathing, is short of breath
  • Has no pulse
  • Is bleeding severely, vomiting blood, or having a large amount of blood in stools
  • Has had a seizure
  • Has had a bad fall and is unable to get up
  • Has a severe headache and slurred speech
  • Is numb or lost use of arm or leg
  • Is unable to walk