Ensuring your child knows how to call an ambulance and that they have your support should they need to call: Not just a school's responsibility

If you've ever had to call 000, for whatever reason, I'm sure, like me, you found it quite a traumatic experience. You're not only trying to deal with an emergency situation, you also find yourself talking to an insanely calm voice on the other end of the line that keeps asking you questions when all you really want is the police, an ambulance or the fire brigade to show up as fast as humanly possible ... Don't get me wrong - emergency operators are amazing people who have to deal with life threatening situations every minute of every day, talking people through incredibly tough times, but boy it's not easy being the one who makes the call!

That is why I am constantly amazed at how many young people (and sometimes very young children) manage to do it so effectively. I believe one of the most important conversations any parent can have with their child (from a very early age and then regularly when they are in their teens) is ensuring that they know how to call an ambulance, what will happen when they do (i.e., what will they be asked and what information do they need?) and that they have your 100 per cent support should they ever need to make that lifesaving call.

Back in 2013 I wrote a blog entry after I received an email from a young woman who found herself in a situation where she had to make a 000 call, albeit after much resistance - some of you may remember the piece (which I have edited down below):

Last weekend one of my good friends ... decided to drink around 3 quarters of a bottle of vodka, eventually around the end of the night I was called over to come and look after him as he had thrown up ... he was foaming at the mouth and not responding to our attempts to keep him conscious. We had tried to reach his mother on his phone, however, his phone was locked and we could not get in, I told my friend that if his mother did not show up soon to call the ambulance. We had to call the ambulance eventually and I was very proud of my friend to have the courage to do it as many people, including parents at the party, were saying that he would be fine and that we didn’t need to be so dramatic. When we were on the phone to 000 we turned my friend (the boy who had been foaming at the mouth) onto his side into the recovery position and waited for the ambulance to arrive. The doctors and nurses eventually told us that he had a blood alcohol level of 0.25 and that he was lucky to have friends like us that were brave enough to call because if he had gone home by himself he would have either, choked on his own vomit, or gotten alcohol poisoning.
As I said at the time - isn't it wonderful that the young woman had the 'guts and gumption' to make that judgement call and ring for an ambulance ... but really, how appalling is it that "many people, including the parents at the party, were saying that he would be fine and that ... (she) ... didn't need to be so dramatic"? The young man was foaming at the mouth, barely conscious and the parents at the party said to this young woman that she was being dramatic because she wanted to call an ambulance - what were they thinking?

As I always say to students during my presentations, 'follow your heart, if the situation doesn't feel right, it probably isn't! If you want to call for help, call!' It may sound corny and, yes, sometimes the 'follow your heart' line gets a laugh from some in the audience, but it's a powerful message and one I hope gets through to young people.

But it's all well and good me providing these messages and I hope that they do make a difference, and of course, if they're reinforced by the school and classroom teacher that's even better - but nothing (and I repeat, nothing!) is more effective than having a parent let their child know their own views about calling 000 and that they have their total support should they ever need to make that all important call that could save someone's life ... One simple conversation at the appropriate time could make all the difference.
Now I know some parents will say that this is the school's responsibility and that doesn't this get taught in health education classes? I'm pretty sure that this comes from the belief that they feel they don't know enough about it and teachers are better equipped to provide information about 000 and how to call an ambulance. Well, to be quite honest, if you don't know anything about this area it's most probably time to find out (I have written a DARTA fact sheet called 'Calling 000 for a medical emergency' - take a quick look at it if you feel you should know more) - you never know when you may need to call for help yourself!
Here's some simple advice on how to best deal with the topic and some of the key points to cover:
  • Download the 'Emergency +' app from the App Store and acquaint yourself with its key features. This is a fantastic tool that everyone who owns a smartphone should have - when opened it provides all the key emergency numbers (you don't even have to dial them - just push them on the screen) and most importantly, it activates your GPS and provides not only your latitude and longitude but also your street address (so useful for young people who find themselves in an emergency situation and have to provide an address - I can assure you that almost all teens never know where they are on a Saturday night!)
  • If your child has a smartphone, sit down as a family and ensure that everyone (and I mean everyone - all adults included) puts the app onto their phone - this provides a great opportunity to talk about 000 and its services and when everyone does it, it helps to emphasise the importance of the service. If they don't own a smartphone, make sure they see all family members are loading it onto their phone.
  • If they have a mobile - make sure 000 is listed in their address book under 'Emergency'. Once again, talk about 000 and its services.
  • Ensure that they know that 000 can be accessed even if the phone does not have any credit or the phone is locked, i.e., you can pick up anyone's mobile and call 000 even if it locked. Show them that when the keypad is locked the option for 'emergency call' is always there.
  • Talk through what will happen when they call regarding a medical emergency (read through the DARTA fact sheet for full details) but the most important points include who they will be talking to (an emergency operator and then the ambulance operator - many teens are completely unaware that they will be talking to two people) and what information they will be asked for (location, mobile number and what is the problem).
  • Make sure they know that it is not them (or you) that pays for an ambulance if they make the call - it is the person being transported! A real barrier to teens calling for help for a friend is that they are frightened there will received a bill for the ambulance.
  • If you have ambulance cover, make sure they know that - I am absolutely gobsmacked that parents don't tell their kids this. They need to know that if they have to be transported, for whatever reason, you have medical insurance. If you live in Queensland or Tasmania they should be told that their ambulance costs are covered - once again, I am so surprised that more teens don't know this in those states.
  • Most importantly, ensure that they know that they have your complete support should they ever have to call an ambulance. I would suggest the following - "If you need an ambulance, you call one straight away. I totally support you. Then you call me - straight afterwards". Making that call can be traumatic - many young people will need their parents' support after they have done it, particularly if they went out on their own and had to fight others to do so ...
Our kids are truly incredible - they constantly amaze me with the things they are able to do and the decisions they make. Of course, some are going to do stupid things and make mistakes, but on the whole I believe the vast majority really want and try to do the right thing for the most part. Calling an ambulance due to a medical emergency, particularly if it relates to someone they care about, is one of the most traumatic things an adult can do, let alone a teenager. It is vital that parents have a conversation with their child about this topic as early as they can and then keep reinforcing the message of support as often as possible - believe me, it never gets old!


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