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Who should you call first when someone suddenly takes ill or dies at home?

3 answers | Last updated: Jan 14, 2015
An anonymous caregiver asked...
If a loved one suddenly takes ill or even dies at home which call comes first: police, primary care physician, 9ll, or the nearest hospital ambulance?

Caring.com User - Barbara Kate Repa
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86% helpful

The answer is a bit different, depending on whether a sudden illness or sudden death is involved.

If a sudden illness strikesand the goal is to get quick medical See also:
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help, it is usually advisable to call 911, where operators can usually dispatch the nearest ambulance service. Beware, however, that unless the ill person is wearing a "comfort care only" necklace or bracelet or some other locally-acceptable sign of not wanting heroic life-saving measures to be performed, emergency personnel who are responding are duty-bound to provide them.

If it's a death that occurs at home, the calling hierarchy may depend on whether the death was expected or unexpected.

If the death was expected, call the doctor, although you need not do this immediately, particularly if it occurs in the middle of the night. If you call 911, inform the operator that the death was expected; despite clear signs that death has already occurred, emergency medical personnel will most likely attempt resuscitation. If hospice is involved, notify the on-call nurse.

If the death was unexpected,
call 911. The police and emergency medical personnel will determine the next appropriate steps. Under certain circumstances, they may be required to contact the local coroner.


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SuziQ answered...

This "detailed" evaluation is really good. One thing I might add re the "comfort care only" necklace or bracelet is having a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) legal document on hand (and filed with the appropriate doctors). Obviously, this only works if someone else is around to instruct the EMTs. I've learned (the hard way) that all EMTs don't always read what's on a Medic Alert tag, even if they have the time.

My Mom had a heart attack Feb. 2009 and, afterwards, all her cardiologists said NO CPR should be attempted. I told them it was important they take the time to explain all this to Mom (first of all, it's HER life and, less important, I didn't want to be blamed by siblings that I "let Mom die"). The doctors told the entire family about the importance of a "DNR" for her as any heroic attempts would only do more damage due to her own specific health circumstances.


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