There’s a great scene from the 1996 movie, Jerry McGuire. The Tom Cruise “Jerry” character and his football client played by Cuba Gooding, Jr. are in the locker room. Jerry is pleading with Rodney Tidwell. “H e l p m e. H e l p y o u.” Over and over again. It is one of the funniest comedic scenes in this award-winning movie. I was reminded of this scene when talking to my friend and fellow baby boomer, Ellen Feinsand, recently. She’s a senior and elder advocate in Acton, Mass. She shared with me how she came up with the idea for a hospital grab & go kit. Even though hers is not a funny story, that line from Jerry McGuire popped in my head.
Because we’ve all now experienced first-hand what a global pandemic is, we’re a little smarter. But Ellen’s concern is that we aren’t any better prepared for an emergency visit to the hospital. And whether COVID-related or not, we really need to be. Her advice is simple and actionable. We can all take a few steps to help the over-wrought, exhausted hospital teams. Just in case we end up needing hospital care at any time in the future. It’s as simple as filling a plastic baggie with your very own hospital grab & go kit items.
From every health care provider’s perspective, they need you to help them. I can imagine that doctor who has never laid eyes on a new patient saying, “Help me help you!”
Ellen’s story could be any of our stories
The love of Ellen’s life is Jim. They’ve been together for more than 40 years. As careers were winding down, they were planning their retirement. Then, out of nowhere, Mr. Healthy-and-Fit Jim has a wildly serious health crisis. Five year later, he’s better. But still not back to 100%. And, when he feels something coming on, it’s important they get him back to the hospital.
Just three months into the COVID lockdown last year, Jim had a non-COVID issue that needed immediate health care. Ellen rushed him to the hospital. And, as usual procedure, Jim was whisked into the emergency department while Ellen answered questions at the reception desk.
Then, everything changed. Due to COVID restrictions and protocol, she was not allowed in the ER. In fact, Ellen was told in no uncertain terms that she must exit the hospital immediately. She was not allowed to join him in the ER room. There are no waiting rooms anymore, mask or no mask. Jim was in the hospital with no support and no one to speak for him or answer the ER doc’s questions. This had the potential of being a big problem.
The hospital grab & go kit idea was born
As Ellen sat in her car in the parking lot, by herself, her head was racing. Was Jim going to be well enough and able enough to answer all the health worker’s questions? He’s on several meds. Would he remember them all in this moment? How could she get information to those who were providing care for Jim? What if this had been a life-or-death situation like it was a few years ago?
They say necessity is the mother of invention. Ellen recognized the huge problem in front of her and Jim. As well as for every family dealing with COVID. No family members or advocates are allowed in the hospitals with their loved one. It is now a solo endeavor and many times the patient cannot communicate. Or is unsure of the answers.
So, wouldn’t it be better all around if those going to the hospital had the critical information with them for the hospital staff? Sure, there are electronic records these days. But they are not always readily accessible to the emergency staff at the moment you are brought in for care. And, your personal records are not always integrated across all the doctors and specialists you see. Furthermore, there are some documents where an original signature is required, such as a HIPAA form or Power of Attorney.
The light bulb went on for Ellen and she assembled a hospital grab & go kit on the back of an envelope. While sitting in her car.
Time for you to help them
I woke up recently to a radio news story. The headline was more Americans now live alone than at any point in history. In 1960, the year before I was born, only 13% of all US households were “singles.” By 1980, 23% of households included only one person. By 2018, 28% of households, or some 36 million people were living alone.
The gist of this particular story was about loneliness during COVID. But for me, it signaled just how much more important it is for someone living alone to help themselves help the medical professionals. Should an emergency arise, how on earth are the EMT’s supposed to know you have a serious back issue? Or that you need a walker? How about all your prescriptions? Oh, yeah, who is your doctor?
It’s an impossible situation.
Add to living alone, think about our latest arrangements for work. Thanks to COVID, there are millions and millions of folks now WFH – working from home. All day. Working online and offline. And, for the first time, they are alone for weeks on end. I’m not just talking about older citizens. It’s now so many of us. In my own house, Dan now works at home by himself. Well, there are two cats… I can still go to my office in Plymouth with the ocean view. But, I, too, work totally alone.
Think about what would happen if you were alone and had a medical emergency. Let’s assume you have your cell phone handy to call 9-1-1. And that your health emergency allows you to function to make that call. But, beyond that, what information will you have at the ready for the EMTs? And, will it be enough to ensure that you’ll get the best possible outcome?
If only you had at your fingertips a list of all the important health information some stranger would need to know about you. Hmmmm….
The hospital grab & go kit everyone should put together
Good news! There are only 10 items necessary to include in your own hospital grab & go kit in a baggie. All in, we’re probably talking about six or seven pieces of paper. Yes, paper. While technology is great and can provide some of the information, paper is still best in an emergency. (Go to the end of the post for a handy checklist you can download.)
Keep in mind you might be seen by 3 or 5 or 10 different health care professionals in a very short time. They are all trying to figure out how to pull you through your emergency and keep you alive. Your critical information typed up and printed out is just what the doctor ordered.
The first 4 items are the easiest to assemble
Here are the first 4 items that go on the front and back of one sheet of paper. These are the important “About Me” items:
1. basic personal information
- name, date of birth, address, and phone numbers
- emergency contact with cell phone – this is who the hospital will call or text
- doctors and key specialists and their contact information
- all allergies or write “No Known Allergies”
2. current medical information
- current health and medical conditions, especially those that are not physically obvious, and chronic issues such as high blood pressure or diabetes
- any implantable devices, replacement parts, etc., especially if not visible
- vision, hearing, and dental devices you need on a daily basis
- current activity capabilities and chronic, unseen issues such as bad back, arthritis in knees, bum shoulder, etc.
- cognitive abilities, especially if you have known memory problems that could be challenging in a stressful situation
3. complete drug list
- all prescription medications by official name and dosage details
- non-prescription or OTC pills or capsules you take
- supplements and creams/lotions
4. important medical history a health care provider should know about you
- recent surgeries
- treatment for a chronic condition
- other major medical information
Items 5 and 6 are super important for communication
Next, you’ll need to make photocopies of your current health access information. The health care system is wildly complicated these days. The more of your paperwork you have available, the better the whole process is going to go for you and your loved ones.
5. copy of your current health insurance card(s) – front and back of each
- Medicare card, plus a Medigap card; or, Medicare Advantage card
- health insurance card
- prescription drug card and dental insurance card if applicable
6. an original, signed HIPAA Release form
- use a HIPAA form for your state of residence and any state you have a second home
- use the online fillable PDF or a copy from your current estate plan
The last items are harder to complete
I bet we all agree that thinking about having a massive health crisis or dying is hardly fun. Most folks spend a tremendous amount of energy avoiding the very thought of not being here one day. But, honestly, if the COVID pandemic did nothing else, it came into our living rooms every night. With a big reminder that we don’t always call the shots.
So, I ask you to take this hard step. Make your decisions on your own terms. Take the burden off your loved ones. And, finish your hospital grab & go kit with these four forms:
7. signed healthcare proxy
- an original signature is required on this form
- appoint the person who will make healthcare decisions for you if you cannot
8. MOLST – Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment
- also called a Portable Medical Order
- state-specific forms
- make sure to print on bright PINK paper – EMT’s are trained to look for this
- gives the medical team your clear instructions for emergency end-of-life wishes
- check out a sample here
9. power of attorney (POA)
- the person who will make financial decisions on your behalf if you can’t
- may be the same person as your healthcare proxy or someone different
- does not have to be a spouse
- form does not have to be in the baggie—just the name of your POA
10. living will
- also known as an “advance directive”
- specifies the actions you want taken due to illness or incapacity
- this is a legal document specific to your state of residency
Don’t hold up building your grab & go kit because you don’t have some of these items. It really is most important to get going on this effort. Especially because some of the decisions may not be so easy to make.
Where to keep your baggie
Ellen suggests hanging your baggie on the back of your door with the hot pink MOSLT form showing. An EMT would likely see the baggie and will grab it and go as they are taking you out on a stretcher. If you do live with someone, that person will know to grab it on the way out.
Also consider keeping one baggie in your glove box in the car. Many accidents are auto related. Your baggie would be invaluable to the emergency crews and once you are at the hospital.
And, last, if you work alone in an office outside the home, consider keeping a baggie with this information at that location. Same goes if you’re back in a huge office complex by yourself.
On average each year, some 26 million people in the US are admitted to hospitals, according to the CDC. Before COVID, 17% of those 65+ found themselves at the hospital. Another 8% of those between 45 and 64 spend at least one night in the hospital. And 6% of those 18 to 44. Millions of additional family, friends, and neighbors have been hospitalized with COVID over the past 15 months.
When you think about it, going to a hospital is nothing like going to see your doctor. You’re seeing many different medical professionals for the first time. And they are trying to save you. “Help me. Help you.” This time it’s not Jerry McGuire. It’s the medical team seeing you at your worst and trying to get you on your road to recovery.
And how did Jim make out?
While Ellen was coming up with a solution to this conundrum, Jim and his emergency doctors were hard at work. A few hours later, he was patched up and walking out to the car. Thank goodness. Crisis averted. This time.
If there is a next time, and hopefully there won’t be, Ellen and Jim are more prepared. Each has their hospital grab & go kit at the ready. Because you never know…
Download this handy checklist for building your own hospital grab & go kit. It is easy to get started. You just need a piece of paper and a pen. The decisions are harder to make. But your loved ones will be forever grateful if you make them so they don’t have to.