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By: Gus Steeves, Webster Times. July 6, 2018

WEBSTER – Nobody likes to call 911, seniors probably most of all. “You come from a different generation. You used to be able to take care of yourselves,” said Shawn McKenna of the Sheriff’s Department. While some younger people overreact to minor medical issues, seniors often feel “embarrassed” to call for help of any kind, he noted. But since many medical issues can be hard to
clearly identify, McKenna urged seniors to call 911 if they experience pain, dizziness, changes in motor skills and balance, or a variety of other signs that might indicate a serious medical issue.
“Raise your hand if you have X-ray vision,” he asked. Obviously, no one did, to which he added, “I was hoping someone would. Because we’d get together and make a lot of money.” Until that happens, emergency medical services via 911 remain the best way to get checked out, and he reminded those present a few times that “you are not a burden,” because such care is for what
ambulance crews are trained.

McKenna, a Leominster firefighter and EMT spoke as part of the Sheriff’s Senior Summer Celebration event at Webster Senior Center recently. Alongside him, several dozen seniors learned
about heart health during aging and the importance of humor in healing, played a couple rounds of “safety bingo,” spent time browsing tables of information on senior-related services, and dined
on breakfast pastries and an Italian lunch. From his experience, McKenna said the most common injuries EMTs see among seniors typically come from falls – head trauma, wrist and
ankle sprains, and fractures. But he urged people to pay attention to a wide range of health signs, particularly those affecting the “holy triumvirate” of heart, brain and lungs, and “be very, very cautious about dizziness, especially if it’s coupled with pain.”

Dizziness, decline of balance and the like “can be a red flag something serious is going on inside,” including such things as heart attacks and strokes, he said. While the body at any age tries to heal
itself, its ability to do so decreases with age. “Sometimes the body outsmarts itself, and can cause you to decline faster,” he noted. For a while, he talked about the common questions people raise about what happens when 911 is called, from why EMTs, police and doctors ask so many (often redundant) questions – because they want to make sure you’re coherent and understand what’s happening – to what kinds of information you should have easily available. For the latter, McKenna urged people to make sure they have an up-to-date medication list and any key documents, including Do Not Resuscitate orders, MOLST (Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment) forms, by which you dictate in writing whether you wish to accept or refuse certain kinds of  treatment, health care proxies and the like. McKenna noted emergency responders cannot just take people’s word that such things exist; the law requires them to actually see the documents.
Two points he discussed, many people take for granted, except in a crisis. He noted it’s important the house be easy to find, and the Sheriff’s Department can provide homeowners with signs
bearing reflective numbers for the end of their driveways. Once inside, first responders sometimes find another hazard: hoarding. While the homeowner may be used to weaving their way
around piles of stuff, it’s a serious fire risk and makes finding you in an emergency much more difficult. “When we see something like this, it’s on a really bad call,” McKenna said, referring to a photo of a living room full of toys and junk.

Once in the ambulance, he noted EMTs maintain radio contact with the hospital in case they need further medical advice, will keep talking to you to assess whether treatment is working, and typically allow direct family members to sit up front, although a parent of a sick child can ride in back. Although many people don’t want neighbors and friends to see an ambulance taking them away, he said they routinely use stretchers, lights and sirens for safety, although patients who are coherent can sign waivers refusing care even if the EMTs recommend taking them to the hospital. Furthermore, EMTs are prohibited under the HIPPA laws from discussing patients’ personal issues with others. The overall goal is “to get you back to your baseline, whatever your normal health is,” he said. “You’re never a burden. We’re there to serve you, to protect you.”