Part 26: The Value of Being Prepared

As I sit at my desk enjoying the warm beach air and sunshine, weather reporters are warning of the East Coast whiteout-blizzard conditions from snowstorm Juno. Millions of people are affected. For assistance, they may rely on the American Red Cross—which brings our blog to a perfect segue.

Our last Joan’s Journey concluded with an ambulance speedily driving me to a nearby hospital. A few hours earlier, I awoke with a massive headache above my right eye and extreme pressure in my eye. Soon, a sharper pain hit my eye. Suddenly, the pain subsided, but my eye felt extremely teary.

“This is so weird,” I thought as I walked to the bathroom to look in the mirror. To my horror, my right eye looked like the worst Halloween monster eye one can imagine.

“Think,” I said to myself. “What to do?”

Resolving an Urgent Situation

My first thought was to call an eye doctor. But who? I had not followed through with updating my contact list. I knew no eye doctors in the Los Angeles area.

I had a scheduled dental appointment for that afternoon. I decided to cancel the appointment and ask if the dentist’s office could recommend an eye doctor. The kind and knowledgeable hygienist recommended her eye doctor’s practice. However, I did not have an appointment. Moreover, the office was not yet open. Looking in the mirror, I knew my situation was urgent.

I called 911 and explained the strange eye incident. The operator said she was immediately dispatching an ambulance, which arrived in minutes. The always on-call, efficient and caring aides of my senior community came to my rescue. One helped me put on a robe and shoes. She gathered clothes, my cell phone and charger, and even loaned me $20 for a cab home—since I had planned to go to the bank on my way to the dentist.

The rest of the story is becoming history. I was immediately triaged at the hospital and then transferred by another ambulance to the UCLA Jules Stein Eye Center. With no waiting, I was examined by a specialist and treated for a serious eye inflammation that unfortunately makes sudden, unexpected appearances. The cause of this condition varies; what’s important is that the inflammation, if not treated quickly, can lead to blindness in the affected eye.

Valuable Lessons Learned

Why am I sharing this story? What does my eye health have to do with an out-of-date contact list, and more oddly, the American Red Cross?

First, the contact list. Had I followed through and in a year of senior living, identified and visited an eye doctor, I would have a known source to call during my emergency. Lesson learned:  Maintaining current contact lists and routine visits to one’s healthcare team will alleviate—or at least assist—during medical emergencies. Likewise, update disaster kits as recommended by government officials and the American Red Cross.

In March 2014, Santa Monica and the greater Los Angeles area recorded more than 100 earthquakes. Most folks, including me, followed recommendations and purchased earthquake kit items. Since last March, the quakes have settled down.

Rest assured, my peanut butter and crackers are stale, my flashlight batteries may be dead, and the bottled water old. During the course of the year, I “borrowed” all the bandages.

Recently, Red Cross Community Representatives gave a briefing at our senior community. They reiterated that disasters may occur at any time—and urged us to be prepared. Lesson learned: All geographic locations are subject to disasters, so keeping one’s contacts and emergency items updated is an effective safety measure.

Have you had a “prepared” or “unprepared” experience? Are your contact lists and kits up-to-date? Share your experiences below.

Until the next Joan’s Journey, enjoy the trip, day by day.

Joan London is a freelance medical and social service writer who specializes in topics on aging. London moved from Maryland to California to enjoy life in a senior living community and enhance her quality of life by living closer to her children and grandchildren.