911 Practice Makes Perfect
By Janeen Zumerling
The only thing worse than watching your child in the throes of a life threatening food allergy or asthma attack would be calling 911 and not being able to communicate with the operator because you can’t get the message across. They are there to help you but if they can’t understand you or if the information you give isn’t clear, they aren’t able to provide the help your child needs.
When my son was two years old we did a baked egg challenge at home per our allergist’s instructions. One bite of a cookie with baked egg in it was all it took. That’s the one and only time I’ve used epinephrine on him. It was terrifying for all of us. It was at that moment that I realized that my emergency plan was not strong enough. After much research and advice from various members of the allergy community, I compiled the following checklist of what to remember if you need to call 911:
1. Stay calm. How many times have you heard a 911 call replayed on the news in which both the caller and operator were unintelligible because the caller was stressed and yelling? I know that I’m not always calm in an emergency situation. One thing that I do is to run the dialogue in my head that I would have with a 911 operator if my son were having an allergic reaction. I do this a few times a month. I hope that it will become second nature to me and flow very easily.
2. Listen. The operator will ask you important questions, which are carefully ordered to fit emergency-response priorities. So instead of just speaking, you need to listen to and answer the operator’s questions.
3. Keep a list next to the phone of all your child’s medications, what your child is allergic to, your house address, and directions on how to get there from the ambulance dispatch point — not all paramedics have GPS.
4. Keep a list of emergency contacts, their phone numbers and your insurance information near the phone.
5. If you are not alone, send someone out front to flag down the ambulance when it appears so the ambulance team doesn’t have to slow down to look at street numbers. But if you are alone, do not leave the phone or the person having the allergic reaction unless instructed to do so. Also take a good look at your house number; is it clearly visible from the street and well-lighted? This will save vital moments.
6. When your child is taken to the hospital during an allergic reaction—and this is generally mandatory for observation even if no admission is necessary–remember to take all of that information with you along with any medication he may need, including at least two injections of epinephrine.
If you are dealing with food allergies, one thing you may want to do is to call your local ambulance company before you need them and make sure that their ambulances carry epinephrine. Apparently not all of them do. Part of my 911 dialogue is the following “I need an ambulance that carries epinephrine and a team that is able to administer it.”
This guide from Allergy and Asthma Network – Mothers of Asthmatics tells you how to identify anaphylaxis, what to expect when calling 911, and what to do until the paramedics arrive.
You should also have a food allergy emergency action plan, which you have discussed with your allergist, that should spell out some of this information for you too.
Our emergency action plan is taped to the inside of the kitchen cabinet where we also keep two doses of epinephrine and Benadryl. I have a list of doctors phone numbers and other emergency contacts. There are also instructions on how to administer the epinephrine.
You can never be too prepared for an emergency. It’s something that I pray we never have to use, but if the situation should arise, all of the information is in one location so whoever will need it will be able to find it easily.
Janeen Zumerling has been a Community Leader for WEGO Health since 2007, primarily working in the Asthma and Allergy Community. She can also be found blogging at: www.zumfamily.blogspot.com and www.foodallergycooking.blogspot.com. A former Sales and Marketing Representative, Janeen is currently a stay at home mom and lives in Ohio with her husband and two young sons.