Editorial Note: Some of the text describing this emergency is graphic. Also, while these tips helped us, every situation is different and this is not medical advice. Always consult your doctor and refer to medical guidelines.
Making sure we are ready for an emergency related to food allergies is something parents like me equate to breathing: it’s always on our minds. But what happens when the “unexpected” emergency hits? What happens when the emergency isn’t related to food allergies at all? Are we ready? Do food allergies come into play?
Over a year ago now, my children and I found out first-hand how we would react in an emergency when someone close to us was visiting. It has taken us a while to fully process everything we witnessed and experienced, but we have been mindful and delicate about talking through and comforting each other over what have been and felt like very big emotions and steps for understanding.
I’m now ready to share, especially because we did some things that were key to our safety and recovery.
5 Tips for Being Ready for the ‘Unexpected’ Emergency
While shopping for last-minute school supplies last year, we were out and about with someone close to our family and the unthinkable happened: While with my two kids, our friend suffered a seizure, falling and hitting their head on the store floor. Blood was everywhere; it had all the signs of a Grand Mal.
The kids saw everything at first. It was terrifying, shocking and completely unexpected, of course. But somehow I remained calm. It felt like we were in slow motion. I knew the kids were watching, counting on me to see them through, looking to me for guidance. And our friend survived and is doing just fine, without any lingering maladies other than being on medicine.
I did a few key things for which I’ll be forever grateful that I want to share in case you find yourself in similar circumstances:
- Pick someone to call 911. I read somewhere that if you don’t look someone directly in the eye and say “call 911” everyone may think someone else is doing it. Picking someone out gives them responsibility. I saw this first-hand.
- Make sure your children stay near you and/or with a safe person. Looking back, this was one of the best things I did. People asked if they could walk my kids around the store (so they wouldn’t see what was going on). But thankfully I said “no, my children have food allergies and need to stay by me.” They did stay out of direct eyesight of our friend in the next aisle, but I could still see them. Later, my son told me he was so glad I did that. Part of the scariness of that incident was that he didn’t want to be with strangers, taken away from me. That would have been too frightening and too much to process on top of everything else. It also helps if you plan ahead. For example, if your child has a medical condition, make sure they’re wearing an ID like a medical alert band, as mine was. So if you’re the one who can’t talk, people will know their medical info. We also have our medical information and emergency numbers saved as the lock screen and wallpaper on my phone.
- Take a certified First Aid and CPR course. I think this is so important for all parents, if not everyone. This way what you’ve learned kicks in when you’re in shock. You will learn how to communicate with those around you, evaluate someone, check vital signs, make sure they are safe, and immediately start rescue breathing (as I did) and CPR if needed until help arrives. Another key thing I remembered was to turn them on their side (after evaluating for head and/or neck injury) if suffering a seizure so they don’t suffocate.
- Be calm but direct. If at all possible, try to stay calm for everyone–your kids, the person who needs help, others around you. Tell people you need help and tell them what you need. Shout it out while working on the person. Don’t hesitate or assume they know what you need. I literally yelled specific orders to specific individuals.
- Think outside the box. These situations are do or die. Anything goes. This person’s life flashed before my eyes and I vowed nothing was happening on my watch. In our case, the blood from the head wound was everywhere and I needed to stop it quickly. I yelled for a towel or shirt. Getting nothing in return, I quickly took off my top, stopped the blood and used it as a pillow to cover the wound while turning the person on their side. It was one of the many good decisions made that day.
Additional Helpers for Parents During an Emergency
One thing food allergy mamas and papas know about is planning ahead. We always have our epinephrine auto-injectors and other medicine at the ready. If your child has a food allergy or other medical condition, it helps (in so many different situations) if they are wearing a medical ID/alert band so people will know how to care for them and keep them safe if you aren’t there or can’t talk.
What also helped us that morning was that I have their medical information and my own on the lock screen of our phone–along with emergency numbers. The kind strangers comforting them were able to read their food allergies without having to interrupt me to explain them. One woman also called my husband for me. And lucky for us, one of the helpers watching over my little ones was a local teacher whose son (who was there) also has food allergies.
What would have helped us even more would have been knowing all of the medication our friend was on and what they had taken that morning. If you’re hosting someone older–or anyone for that matter, it doesn’t hurt to ask if they are on medication, just in case. Don’t be shy.
On another level, one of my takeaways was that when you need help, kind strangers will converge to be there. However, while they may be eager to help, they may not know how and will look to you for direction.
Direct them while you’re doing what you have to do for the person in front of you. And if you don’t know what to do, tell them and yell, “Help!”
Another thing I did was talk calmly to the person and tell them and my children that it would be okay. Even though the person couldn’t hear me and I wasn’t quite sure everything would be okay, sometimes saying it is half the battle–at least for children around you.
Then when the EMS arrived, I let them take over and scooped up my kiddos and got them out of the store as quickly as I could. Luckily for us, the other food allergy mama who was there walked us out, and then went back inside and called me, letting me know everything was taken care of inside.
For days and months afterward, lots of questions about death and God and the universe and everything you can think of came up in the minds of both myself and my oldest–and rightly so. Talking through things slowly and mindfully has been the key. The mind processes such shocking events in its own good time and way. I believe we all learned a lot that day about a lot of things–and most importantly, we are all okay.
Do you have advice and tips for preparing for emergencies? I would love to hear your tips and share them.