Besides having a current CPR certification since I was 11 (first for babysitting then dental assisting and for the last 12 years as a dental hygienist) my Medical Emergency class was when full awareness and preparation got started. Being in any medical field you are going to see emergencies, but if you could prevent them in the first place, you will see less. In dentistry, we are known for being “preventative” in everything we do; I feel we should treat medical emergencies with just as preventative care.
Preventative measures are possible, but you need to know what to look for. Start by educating yourself on the most common emergencies for your field. For dentistry, we needed to know the early signs of low/high blood sugar for diabetics, stroke, heart attack, and allergic reactions. The more we are aware of our patients and what they are feeling, the better we can prevent and treat their emergencies. Checking medical history for every patient is crucial, but just as important, is asking patients questions. I had a patient whose face was sagging on one side and he was talking a bit funny. I asked him if his lip was normally drooping and luckily it was due to an accident and not the start of a stroke. Although questions like this can be uncomfortable, it is worth saving a life. Make sure to use the questions with care, concern and professionalism to avoid embarrassment.
Another patient was getting a cleaning and then dental work, as I was moving her from one chair to another, she stood up and then froze. I asked if she was okay, and there was no answer (no answer also means NO!). When she did not answer, I ran to her and wrapped my arms around her under her shoulders where she immediately collapsed in my arms. She would have hit her head on the hard tile floor had I not caught her. I shouted for help, lowered her to the ground, asked her questions with no response, she was breathing, and I elevated her legs. Luckily I had read her medical history and knew she was diabetic. Turns out, she was nervous for the dental visit and so she had skipped breakfast. She had low blood sugar as well as syncope. We keep juice on hand and when the blood returned to her head she woke and was able to drink the juice within minutes of the episode.
This situation, although resolved within minutes, could have been prevented if I had asked her questions like, how she was feeling at the beginning of the appointment and if she had eaten breakfast when I saw diabetes on her chart.
Mental preparedness is almost a little harder than physical preparedness and takes more practice. You need to continually practice and familiarize yourself with current life support techniques. Become so practiced that when your emergency happens, you don’t have to think, it is just second nature. My mother was a single mom who taught the paramedics CPR and BLS. Instead of bringing mannequins to her class, she brought her 3 kids and they practiced on us. (Of course not the chest compressions but just going through the motions) I remember in the 80’s how different CPR was. The compression/breath ratio has changed as well as having a defibrillator available in most businesses. It is important to keep up with the new findings and changes.
My mother who taught these life support classes, and used them while working as a paramedic, froze in the time of need when it was her own daughter choking. She didn’t know what to do and panicked. She looks back at this experience and said, “I know what to do, but when it was my own, I went blank.” What we can learn from this is to stay calm, against all our natural instincts, and breath. If you put in the time and practice of keeping familiar with these practices, you will know them when you need them.
New medical personnel: Remember, you are going into the medical field to help people. We are helpers, and not just at work. Be ready to use your skills at anytime. If it were you or someone you loved, you would want anyone around who could help to step in. Practice, Practice Practice. Keep current and familiar with life support techniques, and keep calm. Panic only creates chaos. I have stumbled on many car accidents and other injuries where I was grateful to have my skills.
I prepare mentally and physically by doing my best to prevent the emergency in the first place, by keeping familiar and up to date on current life saving techniques so I can be fully prepared for when it does happen, and will be willing to help others around me at anytime or need.