Even though you do everything in your power to keep your children safe and healthy, it is virtually inevitable that at some point you will be faced with an injury or illness that requires immediate medical attention. The best you can do is to prepare in advance for when such a situation does occur.
An emergency involving your child can be very stressful, making it difficult to think clearly, so the more information you have already on hand will be helpful. Keep all emergency phone numbers clearly posted in the kitchen, near any phones and easily retrievable on your cell phone.
Numbers should include emergency medical services, which in most areas is 911, the poison control center (800-222-1222), the nearest hospital emergency room, the fire department, the police department, your child’s doctor, parents’ work and cell phones, and the numbers of trustworthy neighbors and nearby relatives.
Your younger children should be taught how to use 911. Role-playing can be a fun way to ensure they can provide the operator with a description of the emergency and basic information like their full name and address. Older children should be aware that the operator may walk them through first aid instructions and that they should not hang up before the operator says it is OK to do so or they may miss important information.
Knowing your child’s medical history is extremely important to save time and prevent misdiagnosis in an emergency. For example, some symptoms may be side effects of medicines they are currently taking, and knowing pre-existing illnesses or conditions will help doctors determine the appropriate treatment.
Since it may be hard to remember every detail of your child’s medical history, it is best to create a comprehensive folder for each child. This folder should contain complete contact information for your child’s pediatrician, insurance information and your child’s medical history, including past illnesses and hospitalizations, injuries, surgeries, any chronic conditions, as well as all vaccines and any reactions to them.
You should also list all medication your child is currently taking and any allergies they have. It might be a good idea to keep a separate folder in your car and at each parent’s place of work. You may also wish to keep this information in list form in your wallet and provide a copy to your kids’ schools, daycares and babysitters.
When an emergency does occur, you may need to provide some level of immediate treatment, so always keep an up-to-date first aid kit in both your home and car where they can be easily located. If possible, you should receive training in the basics of first aid, CPR and choking rescue techniques. Understanding how to stop bleeding, manage shock and handle fractures is also invaluable. Many organizations, including the Red Cross, may offer classes in your area.
Some situations where your child should be brought to the emergency room include broken bones, lacerations, overdoses, trouble breathing, chest pain, and ingestion of poison or foreign objects. Infants with a high fever should also be taken to the emergency room in most cases.
You will also have to decide quickly whether an ambulance is necessary. An ambulance should be called if your child is unconscious, struggling to breathe, has a back or neck injury or bleeding cannot be stopped. You may also wish to call an ambulance if no other adult is available to drive while you take care of your child.
When you call for an ambulance, be prepared to provide the exact location of the emergency, including cross streets, and a detailed description of what happened and the condition of your child.
While severe accidents and illnesses are fortunately a rare occurrence in most families, you should be prepared so that you are in the best position to deal with them when they do occur. You and your family will be glad you put in the effort.
This resource is only a guide and does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Never delay or ignore professional medical advice because of something you have read on a website. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call a doctor, dial 911 or go directly to a hospital Emergency Room (ER).
American College of Emergency Physicians
The Children’s Hospital