How to Prepare for an Emergency: Lessons of a Broken Hip



A Broken Hip in a Broken System

My story is similar to so many others, a family frustrated by disjointed health care. It’s about a broken hip, treated within a broken system. However, I hope that what I learned about how to prepare for an emergency will help your families avoid similar frustrations.

One day, my 4’7, 84-year-old mother falls while reaching for her cane, despite the fact my sister and son were close by. As we are all taught to do, my sister calls 911.

“Please hold.”

Pause. While my mother is lying on the floor, groaning in pain.

“Is this a life-threatening injury?” asks the 911 operator, some minutes later. My sister answers no, diminishing the urgency of the case for emergency workers.

30 minutes later, the paramedics arrive and stabilize my mother. They ask my sister for a brief health history, including current medications. A gallon-sized bag illustrates the long list, and my sister asks if she should bring the medications with us.

“Oh, no. We’ll just make a list.”

As my son accompanies my mom in the ambulance, my sister and I discuss the situation as she is driving to the hospital. I remind her to make sure they give mom anti-nausea medication with any morphine. My mom gets violently sick on morphine unless she is medicated against nausea.

Upon arrive to the hospital, the Emergency Room staff asks my sister again for the medical history, including medications. My sister says she left the medications at home, but the paramedics have all the information. Except the paramedics have lost it.

While my sister repeats my mom’s medical history to the doctors, my mom is put on a morphine drip without anti-nausea medication. The reaction is predictable; my mom gets violently sick, with a broken hip. It is four hours before anti-nausea medication can be effectively given.

My mom’s hip is stabilized and she is moved to a hospital room, where the hospital doctors show up and again ask about her medications. The litany is repeated, and my sister finally decides to just return home and gather up the gallon bag of medications.

Ultimately, the family develops a graph that details my mom’s medication types, dosages, and times of administering. This list, along with the bag of her medications, accompanied my mother everywhere from then on.

Our story is surely not unusual. While full of mistakes such as lost paperwork, there was no intentional neglect or mistreatment of my mother. Yet the lack of coordinated care led to mom’s violent sickness while trying to cope with a broken hip and our inability to focus on her instead of on repeating her medical history.

What can you do to avoid this situation? Be prepared!

In learning from our experience, we highly recommend having a written and easily accessible document for each family member that details:

  • Medical history, including recent surgeries or serious health complications. Include dates and brief details.
  • List allergies or negative reactions to any medication or substance (include latex allergies, food allergies, etc)
  • List of allergies of immediate family members
  • List of medications or supplements currently taking or recently taken – prescription and non-prescription.
  • Prominently identify blood type
  • Chosen restrictions to treatment, such as do-not-resuscitate orders, religious restrictions, personal preferences.

By ensuring that medical history is detailed beforehand, consistent information can be given to all medical teams, as well as relieving family members of the duty of repeatedly reciting a medical history when they’re deeply concerned about their loved one.

Stay tuned for our story – and our resulting advice – for ensuring everyone gets the care they deserve through hospital treatments, such as surgery.