Making Eldercare Easier for Caregivers
Living Independently as Octogenarians
The phone rang and the quavery voice said, "We've had a little accident over here." These few words always send adrenaline surging into my system. As caregiver to my mother and her older sister, we are the first point of contact when something goes wrong.
When the phone rang in 1991 and I heard those frightening words for the first time, we immediately rushed over to Mom's house to evaluate the situation. We discussed whether we should call an ambulance or just take her to the emergency room ourselves. We made the wrong decision.
I learned that day not only is it dangerous to transport an injured senior, but when we arrived at the hospital, we were treated to a long wait behind others who either looked worse or who had arrived by medical transport.
At the Doctor's Office
"I've fallen and I can't get up..."
Another time we made the wrong decision was on New Year's Eve. The phone rang early that morning - never a good sign - when Mom called and asked me to come help her get a shower. She told me she fell in the bathroom during the middle of the night and lay on the floor until morning.
The timbre of her voice immediately told me something was very wrong. I should have called an ambulance that very moment. Instead, we bundled her up against the cold January wind and drove her to the emergency room. Due to it being a holiday, they were understaffed. We sat in the ER waiting for treatment from noon until eight o'clock that night, eight long hours surrounded by others who were equally sick, coughing and spreading germs.
During those long hours, the staff would not allow me to give her anything to drink, not even an ice chip until the doctor could examine her. When we were finally called to the back, the doctor began to lecture us on the fact that the patient was seriously dehydrated and running a fever. You can imagine my response.
Hello in There
After those emergencies, it made sense to put together a few necessary items into a dedicated medical information bag. This bag comes in handy when the ambulance gets there or when you arrive at the hospital. The paramedics ask questions that the hospital staff asks again and the nursing staff later asks for the same information if the patient is admitted. Having the answers handy saves time and reduces some of the stress.
- Make a photocopy of the patient's Medical Insurance Card, front and back. The card has the necessary phone numbers, insurance policy number and member's identification number. Put the copy into the bag dedicated for emergencies.
- Also enclose a copy of the patient's photo identification in the bag.
These are the first two things they usually ask to see. The ambulance drivers often take the patient's insurance and identification cards with them en route to the hospital. Giving the drivers a photocopy can minimize loss of the patient's original cards.
Medical Information Bag for Emergencies
Tips for Emergencies
Having a prepared list of essential phone numbers is important. In case your cell phone battery runs low or if you forget to bring it along, this ensures you'll have these numbers close at hand.
- Pick up two business cards from the Doctor's office during their next visit. One is for your wallet and one is for the bag.
- Gather the phone numbers of their doctors, minister, friends of the patient and their relatives.
- Carry along a small notebook to jot down important news. Rather than scramble for a blank piece of paper, you'll be able to write down instructions and take notes when the doctor arrives.
When my husband was admitted to the hospital prior to surgery, he was taking an enormous amount of prescription medications. Rather than try to remember this long list, we prepared an Excel spreadsheet with the information: medication names, doses and frequencies. Several printed copies went into the bag. The admissions clerks, nurses and doctors were extremely grateful to get a copy of this detailed list.
- Include a list of prescription medications that your senior takes, along with the frequency and exact dosages in the bag.
- Make a list of all known allergies or reactions to medication they've taken in the past.
- List any over-the-counter medicines they take regularly.
Having a prepared list will save you from repeating this information to paramedics, ambulance drivers, doctors and nursing staff.
Make a List of Current Daily Medications
What Surgeries Has the Patient Had?
It's often necessary to list the dates of any previous hospital stays and the outcome, and whether the patient was admitted, along with a list of all surgeries the patient has undergone.
- Prepare a List of previous surgeries, the types and the dates,
For example: Appendectomy - 1975; Left Hip, Replacement Surgery - 1991
It's a good idea to question your senior about this information before an actual emergency in case they're confused or unconscious.
Make a List of all Previous Surgeries
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More Items for the Bag
Most of these items are handy to have and can be found at the dollar store.
- Add a good book for long waits at the hospital and to avoid the germ laden, out-of-date magazines in the waiting room.
- Pack some bottled water and packages of crackers or cookies. When your wait is long you'll be glad you did. It never fails, if you leave the room even for a minute to go to the cafeteria, that's when a medical person comes in with an update.
- Wet wipes and travel sized hand sanitizer
- A package of tissues for tears or runny noses.
- A new toothbrush and travel size toothpaste in the bag. This is for you.
- Packets of artificial sweetener, salt and pepper, and plastic spoons. Sometimes a vending machine has food available but there are no utensils or condiments.
- A clean pair of cotton socks to wear in those cold waiting rooms at the hospital.
Bring Along the Medical Equipment
Those Were the Days
If you decide to drive your senior to the hospital, be sure to bring along any portable medical equipment they use, like oxygen. When my Dad became critically ill, he refused to go to the hospital by ambulance so we drove him to the emergency room.
In our haste, we left his portable oxygen at home. Naturally the ER was overflowing with people and he had a dreadfully long wait before they finally admitted him to intensive care. Every gasping breath without his oxygen was a nightmare.
If your senior is admitted into the hospital, you'll likely want to talk with the attending doctor. Sometimes they make their rounds near midnight so you could be waiting a while. Once you spend hours in the emergency room waiting for X-rays, blood work and other procedures, you'll want to stick around and find out what's going on with your senior friend or relative.
In the hopeful possibility that your senior is not admitted, you'll want to bring their walker or wheelchair in your car when you follow the ambulance to the hospital. They'll need these items when they're ready to go home.
Taking a few moments ahead of time to assemble an emergency medical travel bag can reduce some of the stress that goes hand in hand with any trip to the hospital. The best hope is that you won't ever need it.
Centennial Medical Center
The Final Word
Here's one last word of advice in case you lose the ambulance you're trying to follow. Be sure you know the address and route to where your senior has been taken. Good luck and I hope you never need these tips.
© 2009 Peg Cole
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