How to Handle a Medical Emergency

By: Dr. Gina Lynem-Walker, physician consultant at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan

In 2015, there were 136.3 million visits to emergency rooms across the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Medical emergencies happen every day and they can take place anywhere, without notice. While it might be difficult to imagine how someone who is not a medical professional can handle an emergency situation, there are steps that anyone can take to properly navigate these difficult circumstances.

  1. Stay Calm

One of the most important things someone faced with an emergency can do is stay calm. When the body is faced with extreme levels of stress, it can move into survival mode, which results in the overproduction of the hormone, Cortisol. This hormone overload slows down the process of the pre-frontal cortex, where critical thinking and executive function are processed, which enables an emotional response, as opposed to thoughtful action. Try breathing deeply and counting to three to help relax the body quickly in an intense situation.

  1. Call 911

It’s vital to recognize the indications of a true medical emergency before calling 911. Emergency responders should only be called in the event a condition is life threatening or could worsen and become life threatening. When speaking with a 911 dispatcher, stay calm and talk slowly. Describe the emergency as concisely as possible, all pertinent details known about the patient, any first aid that was given and specific details regarding the location including an address and/or landmarks. Most importantly, follow all directions given by the emergency dispatcher. Depending on the situation, they may have to walk you through life-saving techniques such as CPR or the Heimlich maneuver.

  1. Check Vital Signs

Vital signs measure the body’s most basic functions and include body temperature, pulse rate, respiration rate and blood pressure. While it may be difficult to check all of these without the proper equipment during an emergency, a person’s pulse rate and respiration rate can be checked quite easily.  To check pulse rate, use the first and second fingertips and press firmly on the arteries until a pulse is detected. Then, begin counting the pulse for 60 seconds. Respiration rate is the number of breaths a person takes per minute and can be measured by counting how many times the chest rises for one minute. Just remember to check the ABCs – Airways, Breathing and Circulation.

  1. Continued Monitoring

Comfort and continued monitoring of the patient is extremely important when faced with a medical emergency. The American Red Cross suggests talking with the victi and gaining as much insight as possible about their injuries and potential needs. If a victim is unconscious, it will be important for emergency responders to know how long the person has been out or if there have been any significant changes in vital signs. Concussion victims might also need to be kept awake for his/her safety. Beyond monitoring, compassionate comfort in a difficult situation can make a world of difference.
Dr. Gina Lynem-Walker is a physician consultant at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. For more information on healthy living, visit

Supported by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan

MI Asian Staff
Author: MI Asian Staff