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It is important to know what to do in a medical emergency — it can save a life. One of the first questions to ask is whether the situation you are dealing with is truly an emergency that requires a visit to the emergency department. Here are some warning signs:

Bleeding that will not stop

Severe or extreme difficulty breathing or severe shortness of breath

Change in behavior or confusion

Persistent chest pain or pressure


Coughing up or vomiting blood

Thoughts of committing suicide or harming another person

Head or spine injury

Severe or persistent vomiting

Sudden injury due to a motor vehicle accident, burns or smoke inhalation, near drowning, deep or a large wound

Sudden dizziness, weakness, or change in vision

Swallowing a poisonous substance

Childbirth complications or imminent delivery

New or worsening slurred speech

New or worsening confusion

Loss of consciousness or fainting

Difficulty waking up another person

Trained dispatchers may ask additional questions related to their protocol to gather additional information. Be honest and forthcoming when answering questions so the first responders know how best to help you and how best to keep themselves safe.

Before help arrives:

Stay on the phone with the dispatcher and do everything they tell you to do and don’t hang-up.

Do CPR and use an AED if available.

Move automobiles out of the driveway.

Clear a path to the victim.

Secure pets.

Gather meds and medical history.

Send a person outside to guide responders.

If at night, turn on outdoor lighting.

Call 911 if you believe you are experiencing an emergency.

David B. Hiltz


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