24 April 2012

For Heaven's Sake, Go Ahead and Call 911

My 80-year-old aunt lives alone. Last weekend, she had a fall at home. She was not injured, other than bumps and bruises, but she did have a good bit of difficulty getting up off the floor.

My aunt is a wonderful lady. She and her family are the kind of people who are the backbone of our community.

A couple of years ago, at my strong urging, my aunt got one of the “Lifeline” devices (the same thing as the “LifeAlert” device endorsed by Dr. Koop and similar devices).  It’s a radio pendant warn by people who can use it to call for assistance if they have an emergency.

Even though she was stuck on the floor for quite a while, my aunt didn’t push the button.  She did not want to inconvenience anyone.

I understand that kind of thinking – I really do.

But when an older or mobility impaired person finds himself or herself in trouble, they need to go ahead and push the button. If they have a phone readily available, they need to call 911.

It is not an inconvenience. The people who will respond don’t mind.  That is what they are there for.

Perhaps you read in the news about people who abuse the 911 system. By people in the system, they are called the “frequent flyers.”

These are not people were calling cause they have fallen at home. These are people who call because they have a cold or a little cut or a little sprain and they don’t want to pay for a taxi or don’t want to “bother” family or just need to get some attention. Generally, frequent flyers are not people for whom the emergency response system is designed.

(That being said, the ambulances have to go anyway, cause even the frequent fliers really can get sick.)

I strongly believe in the use of the Lifeline/LifeAlert pendants for older and mobility impaired people. These are obtainable through national vendors and many local hospitals also provide a program. When the person finds himself or herself in trouble, they press the button on the pendant.  A dispatcher comes on line to see what’s wrong. If the dispatcher can talk to the person, they can determine what’s needed. If not, they’ll call some number designated by the customer, such as a neighbor or family member. If they can’t get ahold of anyone, they will call local emergency services.

These radio pendants work. My mother got one of these pendants a couple of years before she died. Not long after she got it, she had a fall and, just like my aunt, was not seriously injured but couldn’t get up off the floor. She pushed the button. The dispatcher called me. I was a few minutes out, so I went ahead and called 911. Because I’ve been at all three locations in the 911 triad (dispatcher, responder, civilian caller), I knew that nobody was going get mad or feel inconvenienced.

A rig from my old rescue company came, evaluated my mother, helped her get situated and left.

People who respond to these calls do not mind them. Not at all. I did it for years. I never, never, never minded such a call. In fact, we always considered it a good thing when we could help somebody without them being hurt badly enough to need transported.

The way I talked my mother into getting one of these pendants was a little bit shady, I must admit.  She was getting some very minor surgery at the University Hospital.  We were talking to a young anesthesiologist. I asked him what he thought of the radio pendants, and that pushed his sermon button.  He had a strong reason to support the idea that I’d never heard before.

According to that doc, older people have generally reduced blood circulation.  When they fall, whatever part of the body is in contact with the floor is pressed hard and so has even poorer blood circulation. After a while, tissue begins to die. When tissue dies, it creates toxins which begin to poison the vital organs, and that alone can be fatal after several hours.  Like I say, never heard that one before but thinking back to calls years ago with a “poor outcome,” it explained a lot.

The emergency response system did not just happen. Somebody did not just say, 911 sounds like a pretty good number, call the phone company  and that was it. The creation and growth of the emergency response system has been done out of the public eye, but it has still been long and difficult.

I remember in Marion County one very long meeting of the original 911 committee. Understand, when you have a meeting of emergency system folks, it is not a meeting of the merely assertive. It is a meeting of very passionate and aggressive people. Pansies and daffodils do not go into burning buildings or overturned cars, nor dip their hands willingly into every conceivable kind of bodily fluid and substance. When you have a meeting of such folks, the first half-hour consists of a spirited exchange of pleasantries focusing on each other’s questionable antecedents and doubtful progeny. Only then will any work get done.

This meeting I recall ran for five or six hours, but it only concerned a single question:   How would the 911 phone be answered?

The choices were “911, do you have an emergency?” or “911, what is your emergency?” (30 years later, the question “911, where is your emergency?” has come into fashion.) I understand that sounds like a pretty minor thing, but it’s an important decision which bears upon how best to shave a few seconds off of the time it takes to get accurate information about the location and nature of the emergency.

There were lots of meetings like that. The result, in Marion County as in most areas, is an emergency response system that works much, much better than anything that has ever existed before.

But the wheels will never turn until someone calls.

It is not a sign of weakness to call 911 or press the Lifeline button.  You are saying that something is going on that you need help doing.  In the community are people specifically trained and dedicated to providing this sort of help for their neighbors. 

I also encourage people to support the folks in the emergency services.  These brothers and sisters do things that have to be done, but which most people would find intolerable.  Part of the practical training of any rookie is that the older people will take him or her aside and tell them something to the effect, Look, feel free to be upset, to throw up, or to cry.  And then, get over it quick, because the job still has to be done.

You would be amazed how seldom any of those people even hear a “Thank you.”   When any of the vehicles with the flashing lights and sirens pass you, the people inside would like to think that you are sending up a prayer for them or, if that’s not your thing, then sending good thoughts.  When someone sends over to the local station a huge pan of lasagna (or if you live somewhere other than West Virginia, whatever the popular mass food option may be) you would be amazed how welcome that is.

(Oh, don’t send a dozen cookies. That’s like throwing a single small steak into a pack of wolves. These people soak up the calories.)

This is not a regional thing, this is an American thing. We are all in this together. We all have neighbors, and we all have gifts with which to help our neighbors. The people in the emergency services willingly share their gifts every minute of every day.  As we grow older, our gifts change and we may need to rely on the younger people.  That’s OK.  We “paid our debts forward,” just as they now are for themselves.

And as always, I send my love and respect to all my brothers & sisters in our Fellowship.  Stay safe.


1 comment:

Jim N said...

Thanks for this, Roger. I attended a dinner at Johnson Memorial UMC in Huntington some months back that was arranged to express appreciation to emergency personnel (EMTs, Police, Firefighters, etc.). The attendees included the mayor and other city/county officials, as well as many church and community representtives. The seating was arranged so that the various emergency service workers were at the same round tables with community and church leaders. My table included a Fire Department Captain, a policeman, a couple of EMTs, a member of the Mayoral Staff, and a few of us commoners. It turned out to be a very informative conversation about the realities of life in the frontlines of critical situations.

Dr. Heather Murray Elkins, Professor of Preaching and Liturgics at Drew University, was the featured moderator of this event (which was appropriate since the idea was hers), and she shared with us a prayer she always prays whenever hearing a siren. I now say the same prayer, following her lead:

There goes the siren,
Trouble is coming,
Lord, have mercy.

There goes the siren,
Help is on the way,
Thanks be to God.