I’ve been taking care of my elderly mom for quite some time. On Labor Day I had to call an ambulance to take her to the ER. She developed back and abdominal pain about a week earlier and it took that long for her to give in and get medical help. Strength, stoicism, and stubbornness are a powerful combination. I’d never dealt with an ambulance before and I must say there were frustrations. So here are a few things I now know everyone needs to be aware of.

1. Don’t ask the EMTs for directions, if you have even an inkling of where the hospital is. I did, then mentioned how I thought I’d go following after them. The man one said not to go that way. Actually he said I was wrong. He then proceeded to give me directions involving a different road and a lot of turns. Of course I got lost. I was fine until one big Hospital sign was the last I saw. Taking just one of his turns wrong led me into a maze of possibilities. I ended up on what looked like a state highway I’d never seen before heading out of town, and right across the state border if I’d driven long enough. Most everything was closed for the holiday, but I finally saw a guy mowing by the road. I stopped to ask him and he was very kind and intelligent. His simple directions had me at the ER door in no time. It was not far at all from where I had originally planned to go and turn by the nearby BK. So now I know it would have been better to try my way, then ask at BK if I needed to.

2. Have the Social Security Number of the person going by ambulance ready. We’re all told so often to be extremely cautious with that all powerful string of digits. It’s easy to be so cautious with where you put it that you can’t find it in an emergency. I waited in the car to follow the ambulance, while it stayed in the driveway for a while. The woman one got out and came to ask for my mom’s number. I said I’d have to look for it. I went in to start and before long she followed me in, pretty much badgering me for it, saying something about regulations and they aren’t supposed to leave without it. I was getting really stressed over that, on top of the already boiling over stress from my mom’s situation. She said she really needed it, (again) and that they’d wait a little longer while I looked. I frantically tore through drawers with no luck. Finally…finally I thought to get it off her tax papers. When I ran outside with this desperately needed piece of information, I was left staring at an empty driveway. They’d run off without it. Leaving me thinking she’d gotten worse.

3. When you can’t find an SS# in an emergency, go straight to tax papers. Do not pass go. Do not waste time looking through a wallet you realize halfway through belonged to your late father and was in a drawer as a keepsake for your mother. Not realizing until you see his picture on his driver’s license can be a waste of precious time.

4. Remain calm when you are checking the patient in and the intake person tells you she doesn’t need the SS#. It also seems that the ambulance woman caused all that frantic extra stress for nothing, since they got there just fine sans number as well. I was so angry that I had to just put on a veneer of acceptance, yoga breathe, and remind myself I had more important things to worry about

5. If possible train yourself to go into starvation mode. I was at the ER for 7 hours. Longer for my mom since I got delayed over ambulance related setbacks. Neither of us got to eat all day. They don’t allow food back in the ER and I had to answer questions or accompany her for multiple X-rays and a CAT scan at random times, so I couldn’t go for any food at all. Fortunately, dire situations tend to kill my appetite and I can sort of will myself to carry on if I do feel a little hungry and/or weak. My mom was in so much pain she wouldn’t have eaten even if she’d had the opportunity. Some people who really have to have regular meals could be in a lot of trouble, so it’s best to have someone with you if possible.

After those 7 hours of tests and stress, she was sent back home with no definitive diagnosis. The doctor wanted her to keep just taking Tylenol, but only half the amount I’d been giving her. He eventually prescribed a painkiller that’s barely managing her pain. When I scheduled the followup I found out her regular doctor has had surgery and won’t be back for almost two weeks still. She’s seeing his PA tomorrow, and so the struggle continues to get to the root of the pain and fix it.

Bonus thing to know–Find a really intelligent and compassionate pharmacist. I depend on the best one I’ve ever known. He helps me find the best possible dosages to lessen side effect potential and keep her pain to the minimum. His instructions and advice are more spot on and sensible than most doctors I’ve encountered. Above all, he’s patient with my many questions. Find a pharmacist like ours, because he gave me his cell number so I can call him after the pharmacy is closed. That’s rare, but if there’s one professional with a heart, there must be more. Surely.