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During a Medical Emergency

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In the Event of a Serious Illness or Injury

Immediately call 911 and tell the dispatcher about the person who needs attention:

  • Gender
  • Approximate age
  • Nature of injury or illness
  • Pertinent medical history (if known)
  • Precise location

Do not move an injured person — unless there is immediate danger of further harm — until emergency medical personnel arrive.

  • Keep the person warm.
  • If possible, designate someone to direct emergency responders to the victim.
  • If appropriately trained, give first aid until emergency medical personnel arrive and take over care of the victim.

First Response

The initial minutes after an injury or medical crisis can be the most important. If you remain calm, you will be better able to share critical information with emergency responders.

If the emergency is life threatening — call 911.

  • If you are not sure that the situation is life threatening, it is still best to call 911 or go directly to the hospital emergency department, where staff are trained to determine the best course of action. Hospitals and clinics provide emergency services to all patients, regardless of their ability to pay or insurance coverage.
  • If you are certain that the situation is not life threatening, do not call 911, but don’t take chances: calling 911 is the safest thing to do in an emergency.
  • Even if you cannot speak, 911 operators may be able to identify your location from the call.
  • 911 is a free call from any phone, including pay phones. Even non-activated cell phones should work, if the battery is charged.
  • Stay with the person who is injured until help arrives.
  • Do not hang up until the operator says so.

When deciding between calling 911 and driving or taking a taxi to the emergency department, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Could the victim’s condition worsen and become life-threatening on the way to the hospital?
  • Could moving the victim require the skills or equipment of paramedics or emergency medical technicians? If you suspect a spinal injury, do not move the victim.
  • Would distance or traffic conditions cause a delay in getting the victim to the hospital?

Taking prompt appropriate action.

  • Appropriate action can mean anything from just waiting nearby to applying direct pressure to a wound, performing CPR, or splinting an injury.
  • Never perform a medical procedure if you are not sure how to do it.
  • You may be asked to administer CPR or the Heimlich Maneuver in cases of stopped breathing or choking. Note: if people don’t know or don’t want to perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on someone who has had cardiac arrest, the American Heart Association has endorsed “chest-compression only CPR.” This means pushing hard and fast in the middle of the victim’s chest with minimal interruptions. A helpful way to remember how fast to perform compressions is through the tempo of the pop song "Stayin’ Alive" by the Bee Gees, which is approximately 100 beats per minutes. Continue chest compressions until the ambulance arrives.

For more information on medical emergencies, see: