If you’re feeling extremely ill or are in severe pain, it can be tempting to call triple-zero. But how do you know if it’s really an emergency?
A survey has revealed that one in three people don’t know when to call an ambulance, and while most people know when to call an ambulance for life-threatening medical emergencies like a heart attack, many don’t understand when an ambulance is not needed for less urgent situations. They can lead to a stress on services.
We have a checklist for some of the most common admissions and how to know when to make that call.
In a very useful information brochure by BetterHealth Channel, the Victorian Government initiative, outlines what to do in a medical emergency.
They advise that if in doubt, always call triple zero (000). You should always call triple zero (000) for an ambulance for:
• An unconscious person – who doesn’t wake or respond when shaken
• A heart attack (suspected) – pain in the chest, especially if it is crushing or like indigestion and lasts more than five minutes. The pain may spread to the arms and jaw
• Breathing difficulty – especially if the person is unable to speak more than a few words or has blue lips or mouth
• Abdominal pain – if it is severe and undiagnosed
• Bleeding – any major uncontrolled bleeding or any bleeding that does not stop after at least 10 minutes of continuous pressure • Back pain (severe) – after a fall or after sudden onset of back pain if the person is over 50 years of age
• Burns – which are bigger than the size of a hand or cause severe pain that is not relieved with simple pain-relieving medications, or if the person has difficulty breathing
• Choking – especially if the person is unable to talk, cry or breathe
• Convulsions or fitting – or if the person has no history of convulsions (such as epilepsy or brain injury)
• Drowning, near-drowning, diving or scuba accident
• Stroke (possible) – especially if the person experiences numbness, loss of function of hand, arm or leg, slurred speech, facial droop or severe abrupt headache
• Headache (severe) – not the usual kind, with or without loss of function of arm or leg
• A motor vehicle accident – if you think someone has been injured
• An industrial accident – where a person is injured or trapped
• Vaginal bleeding (severe) – with possible or confirmed pregnancy
• A suicide attempt • Pain (severe) after a fall or injury – when the person is unable to sit up, stand or walk
• A drug overdose or poisoning – whether you know for sure or just suspect an overdose
• Diabetes – if the person is not fully awake or not behaving normally
• An allergic reaction – especially with difficulty breathing or loss of consciousness
• Electrical shock – of any kind
• Trauma (injury) – if it is severe, especially to the head, neck, chest or abdomen – for example, if the person was stabbed, shot or impaled, or hit by or ran into an object
• Meningococcal disease – if symptoms indicate possible infection
• Hypothermia or heat stress – particularly if the person is collapsed or has an altered conscious state.
Remember, if you are not sure that what is happening is a real emergency, you can always phone for an ambulance and they will come and assess the situation. Ambulance paramedics can always attend, assess and then leave the person at home if they do not require further emergency treatment.
Try not to panic. Talk slowly and clearly. If you talk too quickly, you may waste time repeating yourself. The typical call will involve:
• The person who first answers the triple zero (000) call is a Telstra operator. Tell them you need an ambulance. They will transfer you to an ambulance call-taker.
• You will be asked to give the phone number you are calling from and the address where the injured or sick person is. If you are located on a country property, you will need to know your property fire map reference or VicRoads map reference.
• You will be asked to describe the problem. You will be asked about the nature of the emergency, the number of people involved, the injured or ill person’s gender and age, and whether or not they are conscious or breathing. This information helps to determine the seriousness of the problem and what resources are required.
• While you are answering questions, an ambulance dispatcher will send out an emergency ambulance. You will not hear the dispatcher doing this, but don’t be concerned – continue to answer the questions. All the information you provide is relayed to the ambulance paramedics on their way to the emergency. This allows them to prepare before they arrive.
• The call-taker may give you first aid instructions over the phone.
• Please do not hang up until the call-taker tells you that you can.
• If possible, have someone waiting outside to flag down the ambulance. If it is dark, put on an outside light.
In an emergency, sometimes there isn’t enough time to wait for the ambulance arrives – immediately action needs to be taken, otherwise there could be dire consequences.
These are all things that can be helped by professionals but when ambulances take 8-10 minutes to arrive on average, and more in rural areas, it can be the difference between life and death if you don’t know self first aid.
Tell us your thoughts or experiences below.