Beyond Life Alert Excerpt

Ground Zero -- My Dad

"This thing is awesome! I haven't had to ask him a single question!"

Beyond Life Alert ebook

Beyond Life Alert,
By Rosemary Roberts

In 1995 it became clear that the question wasn't if my dad would have a 911 medical emergency, but when.

Diagnosed first with asthma and then ultimately, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) in the mid-eighties, Dad's lung disease had progressed along a typical plane. He seemed to experience a bout of Pneumonia at least once annually, each time leaving him a bit more compromised than before, and the onset of sudden episodes of shortness of breath became more frequent with moderate-to-strenuous activity.

He was extremely compliant with his medications, and unlike many patients who suffer chronic disease and/or multiple conditions, he could rattle off the names, strength and doses of his medication if asked ...under normal conditions. He was a good and reliable historian.

On any given day, I could recite with ease and accuracy my dad's meds and doses, and frequently would do so during the occasional ER visit while he mindfully tried to calm his breath during a treatment for asthma. My concern, however, was what would happen if he had a respiratory emergency when I wasn't there to speak for him.

The ER was also where I spent most of my professional days. Spanning over 24 years in healthcare, I spent 16 years at the back desk of three busy regional emergency centers for which one of my responsibilities included new ambulance patients.

After receiving a bedside report from the paramedics, including medical history (if known) and medications (often the bottles themselves), the RNs often began by asking the patient the same questions they've already answered, at great discomfort and effort.

When the ER physician enters and introduces him or herself, pleasantries aside, they begin to ask ...that's right, the same or near same questions.

It was something I never wanted my dad to go through.

At the very least, I could create a clearly defined snapshot of his current medical information that would make the necessity of repeat questioning obsolete. I could create a document that would speak for my dad when he couldn't, leaving only the events of the current crisis to discuss.

I could create a medical history so complete -- based on exactly what the paramedics in the field, as well as the ER staff need to know most -- that it could speak for both of us should the stress of a medical crisis be overwhelming.

I got busy.

Within six months, the call that I had dreaded came one afternoon.

When I answered the phone, there was silence on the other end. As I was about to hang up, thinking the call was a wrong number, the weak, breathless and desperate sounding voice of my dad uttered, "Honey?"

It's crazy what rushes through your mind followed by a deep and overwhelming feeling of helplessness.

The fire department's paramedics were already on scene when I arrived -- their station only a couple of blocks away. A familiar firefighter from the ER reassured me dad was OK as I ran up the stairs.

Once inside, I rushed to my dad in his favorite swivel recliner, a pale and washed-out grey in color and still struggling to breathe despite the treatment he was receiving. His chest pressed hard to rise with each breath as if pushing against a hundred pounds of weight, and the worry in his eyes was like none I had ever seen.

A voice appeared behind me. "Rosie, where did you get this?"

I turned to see the fire captain, Dave, an incredible paramedic I had known for years, holding the emergency medical document I had created for my dad.

"This thing is awesome! I haven't had to ask him a single question!"

I looked back at my dad, laboring to breath and yet, nearly melting with pride and gratitude.

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