Next Stop, Emergency Room! BTN's 10 Tasks to Tackle Beforehand
My husband is in his early 60’s, and young by many standards. He exercises daily on the elliptical trainer and the balance board, walks the dog each day, and we ballroom dance when the chance arises. He’s a healthy eater, doesn’t drink and smoked only briefly in college.
Following a power outage that brought on a bout of the norovirus or food poisoning hitting our whole family, he ended up in the emergency room one Sunday morning. By the end of the day we got the diagnosis, based on scans, that it appeared he had pancreatitis. Once we knew he’d be admitted, I kissed him goodbye and headed home to deal with my own ongoing symptoms. We texted sweet dream to each other. So, it was a shock to receive a call at 6 am the next morning, telling me that he had been admitted to ICU, the victim of a burst aneurysm in his chest.
I quickly discovered all the things I didn’t realize I didn’t know. Many may read this and think, “how could she possibly not have known this?” In most families, there is a separation of chores, depending on who is more comfortable doing what tasks. Sometimes it’s skill- or interest-based, other times it’s based on which partner’s employment covers the family benefits. Chances are, you know little about the things you don’t handle. There’s always a good reason for the things you don’t know, but when you have an emergency, the “don’t knows” add significantly to your stress level.
Here’s the many things I discovered the hard way:
- Know your spouse’s position and title, boss’ name and contact information, and the address at which s/he works. Many readers will think “of course I know all this.” I didn’t, and for good reasons. My husband’s company had recently been purchased, they’d moved to a new location, his job title had changed, and he had a new boss. In order to find his boss, I had to call his company pretending to be a new customer, ask them to switch me to HR, explain to HR what had happened, then ask them to help me find his boss.
- Have the Human Resources contact Information and keep the benefits package information together in a secure location. Know the username and password to the online benefits site. Many people are barely aware of what their benefits are, beyond healthcare and vacation, until they need to use them. Most don’t discuss them with family members. Such was our case. Neither of us had to deal with a disability claim before, and at the point that I needed to submit it, he was out of commission to help me access the information. Furthermore, because of HIPAA laws, they couldn’t/wouldn’t talk to me. I needed a power of attorney, or he had to be on the phone each time, authorizing the release of information…not practical when one’s spouse is on a ventilator.
- Know how to access phones, computers, emails, social media, safes and other repositories for confidential information. Fortunately, my husband didn’t have a lot of numbers on his phone that were needed, because I certainly didn’t have his phone password. He’s not a social media user, and avoids emails when possible. More problematic, however, was computer access. He’d just registered to take a $1200 certification exam at the end of the month, which I knew he wouldn’t be able to do. I had to figure out how to access the account and postpone the exam.
- Be sure to have a power of attorney, and health proxy, and know where they are. These two documents open doors. The power of attorney allows you to step in and handle financial matters. The health proxy gives you the right to make critical life and death decisions such as whether or not to resuscitate. I did need the first. Fortunately, I did not need the second.
- Know where the will is kept, who is executor, and how to contact that person. Thankfully, I did not need this, but concerns over the location of the will could cause extreme duress in an already-stressful time.
- Make sure you have all financial information and access to accounts. After we adopted our daughters, my husband took over paying the majority of the bills using our joint account. We had recently refinanced and switched banks in the process. I had not yet set up online banking through the joint account. You can imagine my rising anxiety, trying to guess his username and its correlating password. In addition, although my name was on this joint account to which I had a debit card, in order to get into the online account, I was asked to remember where the last three transactions I’d made with my card had taken place and how much they were for, to prove I was who I said I was. Note that in mentioning this, I am not criticizing banking institutions…they have to be cautious. I’m simply sharing my experience so others won’t be caught in this bind.
While no one really wants to think about a loved one being admitted to the hospital – it almost feels as if you’re tempting fate – being prepared in advance can make an enormous difference. The majority of people I shared my experience with became alarmed to realize their family wasn’t prepared.
Below is a master list to help you gather information together to prepare in the event your loved one has a health emergency:
- Personal Information – Have social security number, date of birth, place of birth, driver’s license number and expiration, and yes, even mother’s maiden name for all members of the household. If your loved one receives Medicare or Medicaid, be sure to have that information as well.
- Employment/Business Information – Employer, boss’ name and his/her contact information, HR information, and how to access benefits. If self-employed, names and contact information of partner(s) or staff who can be relied on to step in and manage business temporarily.
- Benefits – What vacation, disability, health and death benefits are in place? Who should be contacted and by what means to activate those?
- Will, health proxy, power of attorney - I can’t state how important these are! Know where they are and how to access them. A personal, small, fireproof safe is relatively affordable and you have 24/7 access to the information, without having to wait for a bank to open to get into a safety deposit box.
- Doctor, Dental and Medical Information – List all family doctors, who sees whom for what, their contact information, all medicines and dosages. This could be critical information if your loved one is admitted to the hospital in an unconscious state. Know where to find the insurance card.
- Bank and Investment Accounts - Include bank or investment firm, type of account, account numbers, and all pertinent information.
- Access to electronics and critical accounts – Have username and password to all electronics which retain critical contacts and information.
- Charge Cards – Have a list of all charge cards for the household, their account numbers, expiration dates, CVV numbers, when payment is due and maximum balance. Include what financial institution holds them and how payment is made. Store the list in that safe you bought for the above information.
- Rent, Mortgage, Timeshare and Property Tax information – How much is paid, when, where, how, and to whom?
- Loans – Auto, boat, college, etc. - How much is paid, when, where, how, and to whom? What is still owed?
Some of the above may not be pertinent to your family, or you may discover other concerns not listed here that apply. However, if you have an emergency and a loved one – whether parent, spouse, partner, or child – is admitted to the hospital, if you have gathered this information in advance, I guarantee this will reduce anxiety in an already stress-filled situation.
By Carol White Llewellyn, Editor