7 tools you can use to advocate for a loved one in an emergency

Let's say your spouse is experiencing a medical emergency - chest pains, shortness of breath or severe pain from a fall. You drive them to the emergency room or call 911. And you may start feeling panicky yourself.

In that moment, adrenaline and cortisol flood your system, directing certain parts of your body to adapt so that, if necessary, you would have the energy to fight or flee. For example, your heart may beat harder and breathing may become more rapid to bring oxygen to your brain and muscles.

When you're with your loved one in the ER or when the paramedics arrive, though, panic is not a helpful response because it keeps you from being an effective advocate. Take a breath and remember these seven tools for effectively advocating for a loved one in an emergency.

1. Be a calm and courteous presence.

Your heart may be beating faster, you may be perspiring and you have genuine fear of what may happen. This is the time to be in the moment rather than worrying about the future. Breathe deeply to decrease stress levels, increase calm and lower your blood pressure.

When you're in this state, you're more likely to speak to medical staff more slowly and answer questions more clearly and courteously. It's only human nature that we prefer to help people who are polite rather than rude. Don't be that person.

2. Have medical information handy.

I've mentioned this before, but it bears reporting. BEFORE there's an emergency, or any kind of trip to a doctor's office, prepare a medical history sheet for yourself and your family members. This saves time, questions and confusion.

Here's what should be on it:

• Health conditions (i.e. heart disease, hypertension, cancer, diabetes, etc.)

• Copies of insurance cards

• All surgeries

• All medications, with dosages and when they're taken

• Allergies

• Name and contact information for the primary care doctor

• Name and contact information for the patient's representative, if that person isn't on hand

• A signed HIPAA form

3. Assure the patient that you are there for them.

If you're feeling frightened, imagine how your loved one feels. Do whatever you can to assure them that you're there, whether that's simply holding their hand or speaking softly to them.

Sometimes a person has an intense fear of hospitals and doctors because of a previous personal or family experience. Nosocomephobia can cause symptoms and panic attacks and may prevent someone from seeking medical attention when needed. If your loved one has this condition, be sure to tell the medical professionals.

4. Be patient and offer to help if needed.

Patience is a virtue in the ER. Help your loved one pass the time with something to read, funny videos on YouTube or just conversation. This is not the time to Google their symptoms and tell them what they have.

Unless you're a medical professional, you probably won't be able to provide much help, but let the staff know that you're willing to help if needed.

5. Listen and fill in gaps when needed

When your loved one is giving their medical history or describing symptoms, pay close attention and remind them of anything they're forgetting. When the doctor is talking, listen carefully, write down what's being said and ask questions.

6. Make sure the patient has their necessities.

In the rush to respond to an emergency, it's easy to forget important stuff. Before leaving the house, do a last-minute check: Driver's license or ID? Insurance cards? Cell phone and charger?

7. Express your thanks.

I sound like a broken record when it comes to being thankful for the doctors, nurses, techs and paramedics who are taking care of your loved one. Between COVID, poor working conditions and chronic understaffing, many medical professionals are hanging on by a thread. They don't need more complaining; instead, give them a smile and say "thank you."

Being an effective advocate is something anyone can learn to do with a little bit of common sense and preparation.

• Teri Dreher is a board-certified patient advocate. A critical care nurse for 30+ years, she is founder of NShore Patient Advocates ( She is offering a free phone consultation to Daily Herald readers; call her at (847) 612-6684.

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