Written by Sean Marchese, MS, RN | Edited By Walter Pacheco

Why Prepare a Medical Emergency Plan?

Complications of mesothelioma and its treatment can sometimes lead to medical emergencies. Problems may develop any time of day or night, and they usually happen suddenly.

Getting prepared ahead of time can help patients and caregivers feel collected and ready to take action when a medical emergency happens.

The first step to preparing your emergency plan is gathering all important medical information. Then, you can make a medical emergency kit with everything else you might need for an ER visit or overnight hospital stay.

Get Medical Documents Ready

Get the following documents printed or information written down and put them in your medical emergency kit:

  • Oncologist information: Write down the name, address and phone number of your oncologist. The ER team may need to consult with your oncologist to confirm information about your diagnosis and treatment plan.
  • Specific diagnosis: Note your exact diagnosis including your cancer’s location and cell type. A copy of your pathology report is helpful to include.
  • Current medications, cancer treatments and side effects: Make a list of your current medications including prescriptions and over-the-counter medicines. Jot down the treatments you’ve received and any history of side effects you’ve experienced.
  • Clinical trial information: ER doctors need to know if you’re participating in a clinical trial. Write down the identifying number of the clinical trial, where you are receiving treatment, what treatments are involved and contact information for those overseeing your care in the trial.
  • Emergency contact information: Provide a list of important people to contact in the event of an emergency such as family members and the doctors who provide your health care. Include first and last names, addresses and phone numbers.
  • Medical or legal documents: Print out copies of any living wills, health care proxies and advanced health care directives.

Placing this information in a folder in your medical emergency kit will help you answer questions quickly and accurately in a crisis situation.

Advice for people on a distant trial: Have a local oncologist on speed dial who knows the protocol, is willing and able to be on their team, and can respond to any medical emergencies if needed. Also, if an ER visit is required, like it was for us last Saturday, have your emergency contact list from the trial location and the protocol document ready for the ER doctor to get specific instructions for your special circumstance. That saves you from wasting precious time with an ER staff who knows nothing of the cancer or protocol.
Pam McWhorter
Mesothelioma caregiver

Communicate with Your Medical Team and Support System

Ask your doctors for guidance on when you should go to the emergency room. They can tell you the signs and symptoms that call for an ER visit.

Signs of an emergency include a fever above 101 F, drastically worsening symptoms, severe and sudden chest pain or severe difficulty breathing. If symptoms such as these arise, it is better to be safe and get checked quickly than to hope you will feel better soon.

If you’re participating in a clinical trial, ask your nurse or oncologist for a list of potentially serious side effects. If you develop any signs of serious side effects, you should go to the ER immediately.

Questions to ask your physician or caregiver include:

  • What are the best phone numbers to contact after hours?
  • What symptoms are most concerning and how should I address them?
  • If my doctor is unavailable, who should I reach out to first?
  • What is the best way to reach my family members who can help?
  • Do we have a transportation plan in case of an emergency?
  • Are there any language barriers or disabilities to consider?
  • Do we have equipment or devices that need to be transported?
  • Do we have backups of my important documents?
  • Who can care for my pets or children?

Gathering information from your health care team will give you an idea of what essentials to include in your emergency kit. It will also aid you in building a set of instructions for others to follow.

Build a Medical Emergency Kit

Your medical emergency kit can be as big or as small as you want to make it. Some people opt for a streamlined kit that is small and only includes the essentials. Others opt for a fuller kit that includes comforting and entertaining items as well.

Consider the following items to include in your kit:

  • Water and snacks: Include several bottles of water or at least two empty water bottles to refill. Have a few packaged snacks on hand in case the hospital kitchen is closed and no vending machines are nearby.
  • Medical documents and supplies: Bring any helpful medical supplies including your medical documents, medicines, topical creams and medical devices.
  • Entertainment: Plan to spend several hours of downtime in the ER. Bring abook, magazines, technology devices and a deck of cards or any games you like to play.
  • Device chargers: Be sure to pack chargers for your cell phones and any other devices such as laptops and tablets.
  • Spare cash or change: Vending machines often accept credit cards, but it doesn’t hurt to have some cash on hand if you run out of snacks and drinks.
  • Toiletries and change of clothes: Medical emergencies sometime require an overnight stay at the hospital. Bring a change of clothes and essential toiletries. Little comforts like this help you feel more at ease.

Share a copy of your completed medical plan and emergency kit details with your caregiver and family members. If you update your prescription list or medical documents, also ensure their lists remain updated.

This kind of kit will also come in handy if a natural disaster strikes.

Once you’ve received care for your emergency visit, update your primary physician and medical team about what occurred. This includes blood tests or imaging scans and any new medications that were given or prescribed.

Coping with a medical emergency is physically and emotionally challenging. Preparing as best you can in advance helps respond well and process stress in healthier ways.

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