How to Prepare for a Medical Event in the Middle of the Night

How to Prepare for a Medical Event in the Middle of the Night

Growing older comes with a whole set of concerns and having a medical event in the middle of the night when no one is around is a terrifying thought.


On average, close to 25 percent and more of the senior population in the U.S. live alone. That number expects to grow as boomers turn 65 years of age because this group segment has the highest divorce rates and childless marriages. Knowing that data, more seniors will find themselves aging alone.

In a Facebook group for elder orphans, one of the biggest concerns they face is dealing with a medical event in the middle of the night and having no one around to help. So, I asked Dr. Maria Carney, a geriatrician for advice and tips on how people living alone can prepare for a medical event, especially if one occurs after the urgent care centers have closed. Dr. Carney offered the following tips:

  • Develop a strong relationship with your primary care physician and the office staff
  • Find out what the office has a 24-hour service call phone line that you can call when you become sick during the nighttime
  • Find out if the hospital has a 24-hour service help phone line and learn the hospital where your physician works.
  • Know if your community has 24-hour Urgent Care Centers.
  • Some emergency rooms have fast track lines that address needs of those unsure if it is a real emergency. Ideally, you want to call the primary office first.
     

The other night, I put Dr. Carney's advice to the test. Here's what I found:

At 2:00 AM, I called my primary care physician's office. The recording instructed me to hang up and dial 911 if this is an emergency. Then it proceeded to say, "If it is not an emergency, visit our Urgent care Centers, after that, it continued and said, "We're directing your phone call to our physician on call."

I felt relaxed knowing that a doctor would be on the other side of the phone line if I needed to connect with one.

The following morning I called the RN at the physician's office. She told me that the doctor on call can only do so much via the phone and cannot treat, prescribe, or give advice. And anything short of having diarrhea and vomiting, you're better off calling 911 and going to the emergency room. For example, if you have

  • Fallen and you cannot get up
  • Fallen and hit your head and bleeding
  • Experiencing chest pain
     

Then you should dial 911 or go to the emergency room. The RN did state that if a person has a thought to call the emergency room or 911, that person should follow through immediately. Assessing one's medical situation without an evaluation is difficult.

Carol Marak
Aging
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Carol Marak earned a Fundamentals of Gerontology Certificate from the USC Davis School of Gerontology and advocates on behalf of older adults and family caregivers. She simpli ... Click for full bio

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