Home Alone: Should You Call 911?

By Tracy Morris

It’s happened to me several times over the course of single womanhood: a scary near-accident shakes my sense of all’s quiet on the home front.

My brain scampers away with a host of scenarios in which I — the sole adult in the home — am suddenly incapacitated and unable to care for myself and my child. 

The key to surviving is often simply knowing when to call for help, and then doing it.
The most likely emergencies are debilitating health conditions and accidents.
Connie Meyer, RN, MICT has seen a lot of both in her 26 years of riding ambulances. She’s presently a paramedic and EMS Captain in Johnson County, Kansas, working 24-hour shifts. She’s also on the Board of Directors for the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians (NAEMT).
Meyer says a lot people get into trouble because they don’t know at what point a situation goes from being something that will do fine through your own care at home into a condition that requires professional medical treatment.
pic1The first thing she cites as a reason to call: severe pain.
Pain to me may not be pain to you. “Whenever anyone tells me that this is the worst headache or some other type of pain that they’ve ever experienced, that’s a red flag,” Meyer confirms.
Many of us typically resist calling 911, for several reasons. For one thing, it can make our fears seem more real. It’s not easy to make that call you’ve always dreaded, and even scarier to travel in an ambulance. Women, especially, will often cite that they “don’t want to bother anyone,” implying that their condition may or may not truly be an emergency.
EMT’s like Meyer want you to call, even if what you think might be a heart attack turns out to be that pizza you just ate. In fact, she jokes, “Besides the physical symptoms, the other number one symptom of a heart attack is denial.”
Cardiac Events & Strokes
On heart attacks specifically, women’s symptoms aren’t always as acute and traumatic as we’ve seen portrayed in films. Meyer explains, “Women tend to say they feel pressure in the chest or tightness, along with dizziness, weakness, nausea, and shortness of breath. Many times they think it’s ‘just’ indigestion, but indigestion responds to over-the-counter treatments.”
Other pains that may indicate heart attack include unusual discomfort in one or both arms, your back, neck, stomach, or even jaw.
Heart attack symptoms are sometimes sudden, but can also develop slowly over longer periods.
The warning signs of a stroke generally come quickly and include: 
  • Numbness, weakness of the face, arm, or leg, often on only one side
  • Confusion, difficulty forming and understanding words
  • Trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Difficulty walking, loss of coordination or balance
  • Severe headache with no known cause 
Illness & Dehydration
Meyer says that she frequently sees people who have a minor illness such as the flu, but who are seriously dehydrated. “If you start becoming dizzy every time you stand up or you cannot keep any food or liquids down, it’s time to call.”
It’s easy for women who are caring for children or aged dependents to let their own illness reach the point of serious dehydration and resulting debilitation.
Falls & Sprains or Breaks
If you’ve fallen, whether by stumbling on a rug or from a ladder, call 911 if: 
  • You can’t ambulate — can’t walk or get up from either sitting or lying down
  • You hit your head and have persistent blurry vision


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