I left a message with her oncologist’s
answering service. The doctor on call
responded promptly and told us to go
to the emergency room right away. He
suspected correctly that Jackie had
developed pneumonia, which can be
life-threatening for people with cancer.
We left in a panic with no plan. I realized
I didn’t know which ER to go to, let alone
who to call to take care of our dogs.
Being prepared for an emergency can
help you navigate if you find yourself in
a similar stressful situation. Here are
some tips that may help:
Know how to recognize and respond
to a true emergency. It’s not always
obvious whether a situation warrants a
trip to the ER. Symptoms such as a low-grade fever that seem manageable in a
person without cancer can be reason for
a cancer patient to go to the ER. Ask your
loved one’s health care team which symptoms and side effects to watch for.
Determine where you’re going.
During a regular office visit, ask the
doctor to recommend a facility for
emergency care. Doctors may have
privileges at some hospitals but not
others, which could impact whether
they are able to provide direction
for care if your loved one needs to be
admitted to the hospital. Once you
know the preferred ER, make a note
of the address on your smartphone or
print out directions and keep them in
your glove compartment. You can also
dial 911 to request an ambulance to
transport the patient to the ER.
Pack “go bags.” Fill bags for yourself
and your loved one with essential items,
such as toiletries, underwear, socks, a spare
set of eyeglasses, pajamas, slippers and an
extra phone charger. You may also want to
bring earplugs to block out hospital noise.
Put important documents in one
spot. Keep copies of your loved one’s
important documents on an external
storage device such as a USB drive, or in a
folder that fits in your go bag. These docu-
ments could include personal contacts; the
doctor’s phone and fax numbers; a list of
current medications and dosages; copies
of medical records, including pathology
reports, lab reports and imaging results;
health insurance information; and a
written power of attorney and living
will. You can also save this information
to the cloud or other remote storage that
can be accessed via the internet.
Develop a plan. Let dependable
friends and family members know you
might be calling on them if a situation
arises. These people can help you handle
responsibilities like caring for a child,
checking in on a sick parent or feeding
your pets so you can be present for your
loved one. Most people are eager to help,
especially if you tell them how.
Remember, it’s not unusual for cancer
complications to require urgent medical
attention outside of a doctor’s regular
office hours. Think about what you would
do if your loved one needed to go to the
ER right now. Would you be ready?
AIMEE SWARTZ is a writer based in
WILL YOU BE
Ready in an Emergency?
Follow these strategies to take control when a loved one’s cancer requires urgent attention.
It was almost midnight when my partner, who had been coughing all day, suddenly had a fever. Jackie has multiple myeloma. Her cancer treatment at the time suppressed her
immune system, making her particularly susceptible to infection.