When you see an ambulance zooming by, you may wonder what happened to the person it's carrying. You may not think, "That could be me." But it could. Emergencies can happen to anyone.
Luckily, there are a lot of people out there who have special training to help out during an emergency. If you get sick or have an accident, they can get to you fast. They start taking care of you immediately so that you will get better as soon as possible.
Unfortunately, accidents do happen. Each year, one in four kids under age 15 gets hurt badly enough to need medical attention, says the U.S. Public Health Service. These injuries are caused by falls, car or bike accidents or fires. Kids get cut or burned or break a bone.
Most injuries are easily treated -- but some cause permanent problems or even kill children. Doctors worry about the high rate of childhood injury. At Porter Memorial Hospital in Valparaiso, Indiana, director of emergency medical services John C. Johnson runs a program called a Teddy Bear Clinic. It's designed to help kids get to know the emergency room before there is an emergency.
Dr. Johnson and his staff invite the city's 5-year-olds to bring a stuffed animal or a doll to the emergency room for treatment. They register their toys, and each one receives a plastic bracelet with its name on it.
"One child brought in a six-foot stuffed snake," Johnson says. "He said it had a broken back. It took a lot of tongue depressors and gauze to make that snake a cast."
During the clinic, kids meet the doctors and nurses, see the equipment and crawl around inside the ambulance. "We let them run the siren," says Johnson.
The visit is fun -- but it has a serious purpose. "We want to make a child's stay in an emergency department as easy as possible," says Johnson. He says that kids who have been through the Teddy Bear Clinic have a much easier time if they ever have to come to the hospital for real. "They may come in here with appendicitis or a scalp laceration," he says, "but they come in here calmer. They say, 'This is okay. I know this place. These are my friends.' We don't have too much of a problem with screaming kids here."
Emergency-room specialists are trained to make quick decisions and to act fast. "You learn to focus on things that will really make a difference during the first hour after an injury or a sudden illness," says Johnson.
Who are some of the specialists you'd run into during an emergency? Let's say you take a really bad spill playing baseball. Your coach takes one look at you and sees that your arm is broken. He asks you to stay still and sends another child to dial 911. "Tell them we need an ambulance," the coach says.
When your teammate calls 911, he or she will talk to someone called a dispatcher. Dispatchers answer calls for help and send out emergency vehicles. They are trained to speak calmly to the caller and to be reassuring. The person who called 911 may be panicky; the dispatcher never is. The dispatcher tells an ambulance where to go and what to expect when they get there.
The ambulance driver arrives at your ball field, along with a team of paramedics. Paramedics have medical training -- although they are not physicians. But they can do many medical procedures right at the scene of an accident or in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. They would probably put a temporary splint on your arm, which would make it feel a lot better right away.
If the emergency calls for it, the paramedics can talk to doctors at the hospital by radio and tell them how the patient is doing. At the hospital, the first person you're likely to see is an emergency nurse. The nurse will ask a lot of questions about your problem and help decide when you can see the doctor.
It's up to this nurse to figure out if you need attention right that minute, or if another patient should be seen before you are. You'd be seen by an emergency physician.
By this time, the emergency room staff has probably gotten in touch with your mom and dad, if they aren't there already. The doctor would check your X-rays, put a cast on your arm, and dry your tears.
"You'll be sitting on the bench at those ballgames for a while," the doctor might say. Then he'd send you home to start healing.
Tips for Parents
The American College of Emergency Physicians urges parents to teach their youngsters to dial 911. Here's what they should know:
When you call 911, stay calm and inform the dispatcher about what has happened. Give your name and the telephone number where you are.
Tell the dispatcher what the emergency is and where it happened. Try to give an exact address. Tell if there is a fire, if someone is trapped, how many people are hurt and whether the injured or sick person can talk or move. This information helps the dispatcher to decide what kind of technicians or equipment to send to your aid.
Listen to the dispatcher's instructions. Do not hang up until you are told to. Don't leave the scene of the emergency until help gets there.
For information on the "Safe Kids" campaign, a nationwide effort to reduce childhood injuries, write to Safe Kids, Children's Hospital National Medical Center, 111 Michigan Ave. NW, Washington, D.C.
Catherine O'Neill is a freelance children's writer.