What happens when you call 911? Use these tips for better emergency response
As Hurricane Dorian barrels toward Florida’s east coast, people with medical conditions should start preparing for the worst-case scenario of a direct hit. And everyone should know what to do if a medical emergency arises during a storm.
What can people with medical conditions do to prepare for the storm?
Doctors agreed that the first and most important step is to refill prescription medications ahead of time and make sure you have at least a week’s supply before the storm hits.
Because Gov. Ron DeSantis has declared a state of emergency, limits on prescription refills have been temporarily lifted.
“Just like you’d have a plan for personal items, if you have medical illnesses and conditions, you should have a plan for what you’re going to do for medical supplies,” said Clifford Medina, chief of general medicine at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami.
That includes people who rely on electronically powered medical devices. They should look into stocking up on batteries, and getting extra supplies of things like oxygen tanks.
And if you need power to operate the device and the electric grid is knocked out, try to find access to a generator.
“They might want to seek out one of their neighbors or someone with a generator for those requiring oxygen or treatment that requires a machine to deliver it,” said Joseph Flagge, an emergency room doctor at North Shore Medical Center.
Don’t forget to wear medical ID bracelets listing your condition and write any pertinent medical information down on paper. That includes a list of prescription medications and doses, allergies and sensitivities, insurance information, a list of your healthcare providers, and any other relevant details. Keep that piece of paper on your person and in a zip-lock bag, doctors said.
Bobby Kapur, Jackson Memorial Hospital’s chief of emergency medicine, also reminded people to keep taking their medicines during a storm.
“Some people get concerned about supplies and stop taking their meds,” Kapur said. “You want to keep treating your conditions during the storm because you don’t want to develop a situation where you’re not taking your medicines and you create an emergency where there might not have been one.”
Doctors also stressed preparing ahead of time on food and water safety, keeping a stocked supply of water and non-perishable food items. Eating food that has gone bad can cause serious gastrointestinal issues, they said.
What should you do if you get injured during the storm?
It’s important to remember that healthcare providers in the vicinity of a hurricane will be inundated with people seeking treatment during and immediately after the storm, doctors said, so only seek medical attention for serious or life-threatening conditions.
Jackson Memorial Hospital, the area’s top trauma center, will remain open during the entire storm, Kapur said.
“We remained open during the entirety of [Hurricane] Irma, so we will be available to people if they need us,” he said. “But how they can get here may be limited by flooding or availability of EMS transport.”
Flagge, the emergency room doctor at North Shore Medical Center, said the uncertainty of EMS transport underscores why people should seek treatment before the storm hits.
“Once the storm happens, ambulances and police will not go out, or it will not be mandatory for them to go out once tropical storm winds are experienced,” Flagge said. “They would have to ride out the storm at home.”
Tropical storm winds range from 39 to 73 miles per hour. Anything above that constitutes hurricane-force winds.
Kapur said the chief concern for people without preexisting medical conditions should be to avoid getting injured in the first place. That means staying sheltered and away from windows. But, Kapur said, you never know if a tree may fall or another unexpected event may happen.
“We recommend having a first-aid kit at your house that includes bandages, gauze, antibacterial ointments and ace bandages,” he said.
Any wound in which a patient can control the bleeding with direct pressure probably won’t necessitate a trip to the emergency room, Kapur said, but other wounds where a large vein or artery is involved and bleeding can’t be controlled should be addressed immediately.
“If you can’t control the bleeding that’s a condition where you really need to consider coming in,” he said. “If you’re concerned about a fractured bone or a deformity of a bone ... those can compromise blood flow and the nervous system.”
Kapur also said that severe head injuries, especially if there’s a concern for loss of consciousness, should be immediately dealt with. Lastly, he said, people should not hesitate to seek medical treatment for symptoms of acute major conditions such as a stroke or a heart attack.
For less serious wounds, Kapur said it is wise to wait until winds die down and the roads are clear.
“Most hospitals are probably going to have additional staffing after the storm because we typically see a larger demand of people seeking treatment,” he said.
What should you do if you’re pregnant?
Jackson Health on Friday notified those who are registered to deliver their baby at the hospital to check with their physicians ahead of time and report to the hospital only if advised to do so.
The health system will provide shelter only to expectant mothers registered at Jackson Memorial Hospital, Jackson North Medical Center and Jackson South Medical Center, who meet the following criteria: those carrying multiple babies who are at least 34 weeks into their pregnancy, those who have placental implantation abnormalities and are at least 28 weeks pregnant, and those experiencing preterm labor.
“Pregnant women who do not meet any of the above criteria should seek shelter safely according to their own personal hurricane plans, and should not report to the hospital unless specifically directed to do so by their physician,” the hospital said in a press release.
What about people with chronic conditions like cancer?
Jessica MacIntyre, a nurse practitioner and executive director of clinical operations at the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, emphasized writing down medical information ahead of time and keeping it with you in a waterproof bag.
“You should have a packet of information that tells your story because in times of stress, you forget a lot of things,” MacIntyre said.
Cancer patients should also ask their physician ahead of time which hospital they should go to if they have an emergency. Typically, that will be the closest emergency room, but it’s wise to contact a physician ahead of time and make sure, she added.
MacIntyre said patients should make a kit with items they may need: antiseptics, medications, thermometers, and keep the kits in a waterproof bag to take with them if they have to evacuate.
She said there are a lot of resources for cancer patients to help construct plans ahead of time offered by the American Cancer Society, including “hope lodges” that offer priority housing to people with cancer for hurricanes. The cancer center, MacIntyre said, mobilized a lot of resources with the American Cancer Society to assist patients in Puerto Rico during Hurricane Maria.
“Infections are one of the biggest things,” MacIntyre said. “Sanitizers are important, especially if you don’t have running water that is sanitary.”
Another issue for cancer patients is those with pending treatments, MacIntyre said. She said that as of Friday, the cancer center is scheduling treatments for the day and Saturday as well, but the outpatient services may have to close down if a storm makes a direct hit.
MacIntyre said the cancer center is scheduling those treatments based on critical need and that the institution hopes to continue giving treatment, but it is a common concern for their patients.
“Safety is of the utmost importance right now,” she said.