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June 3rd, 2010
05:03 PM ET

How not to freak out during an emergency

By Jennifer Bixler
CNN Medical Executive Producer

On Wednesday, Utah officials released the 911 call from inside actor Gary Coleman's house. On it, according to People, Shannon Price tells the operator that Coleman hit his head while making her something to eat on the evening of May 26 downstairs in their Santaquin, Utah, home.

"He just just got home, I went downstairs.  Blood everywhere," Price says.  "I don't know if he's OK.  I'm not down there right now because I have seizures. If I get stressed out I'm going to seize."

Price goes on to say to the operator, "I just can't be here with the blood," she says.  "I'm sorry, I can't do it.  I can't ... There's blood all over and I can't do anything."

The operator asks Price "to at least give him a towel" so Coleman can apply pressure to his wound. Price replies, "Yeah, I'm just panicked. I don't know what to do … I just don’t want him to die. I'm freaking out."

In a video interview released Thursday, Price said Coleman couldn't be saved and she didn't want him left in a vegetative state.

Price has been criticized for her lack of action, but it's not uncommon for people to panic during an emergency.  If you don't handle emergency medical situations well, here's a quick checklist to keep yourself calm, cool and collected.

GET YOUR BEARINGS "If you don't understand what is going on, you are going to freak out," says Dr. Dave Beiser, an emergency room doctor at the University of Chicago Medical Center.  Ask yourself the following questions, is the person breathing?  Are they bleeding and if so where?  Can they talk?

CALL 911 Even if you aren't sure how serious the situation is, it's always best to err on the side of caution.  The moment something happens, you should call 911.  "They are trained to deal with someone who doesn't have medical training," says Beiser.

PREPARE FOR EMERGENCY WORKERS TO ARRIVE Beiser says in a situation like what happened to Gary Coleman, you should make sure the person is lying on his or her side.  Why?  "In case they vomit, it protects the airway," says Beiser.  Beiser also says if the operator suggests you do CPR, make it simple.  Experts suggest brushing up on your CPR before an emergency.  A simple way to do that is by checking out the "Hands-Only CPR" campaign The American Heart Association launched a few years ago.


soundoff (9 Responses)
  1. Lincoln Brigham

    It's been said that crisis situations do not build character so much as reveal it.

    June 3, 2010 at 17:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Smith in Oregon

    I worked as a paramedic for many years, one job site I had 50 Miles of InterState connected area directly under my care. I have seen Adrenalin adversely effect co-workers, even extremely qualified and experienced co-workers before. In one 'specific' real-life experience the team leaders daughter looked almost identical to the young girl that had just been hit by a car which our team was called out to work on. I placed the team leader out to re-direct traffic while we worked on stabilizing the young girl and getting her ready for emergency transport.

    I've seen police officers holding their guns on suspects shaking so badly you could hear the loose parts in their revolvers rattling. There are some such as myself where large increases of natural Adrenalin helps to clarify and focus me on the task at hand, while others it largely pushes them into fear, confusion and a sizable lag in their active mental processing.

    June 3, 2010 at 20:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. John Galt

    All of us at some point in our lives will be faced with a medical emergency of a loved one–often involving the final minutes of life for that person. It is imperative that we do whatever we can to make those final moments comforting and comfortable and surrender our own fears as secondary in order to allay the fears of the stricken.

    June 4, 2010 at 08:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Roger Panic

    I find it hard to calm down in a panic situation I am always the first to feint and start crying when it deals with someone close to me. I try my best to hold my feelings but I am a sentimental man and need to express my feelings.

    June 5, 2010 at 11:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Peter

    I always freak out I guess that's how I am but makeup for it by paying the hospital bill.

    June 5, 2010 at 15:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. JBecker

    When I worked as a nurse I sometimes had to assist with procedures that ordinarily would gross me out. If you're the support person/assistant it helps to look at the person's face rather than the injury, blood, etc. and focus on how the person inside the "patient" is taking it.

    June 6, 2010 at 21:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. paul

    Focus on what you have to do at the moment. Not the damage that has been done, or what will be lost. Just identify the tasks and do them. As much a possible, don't think about what you are dealing with, except as much as you have to in order to not make it worse. One step at a time until someone competent to help shows up and takes over for you.

    Then, freak out as much as you want.

    June 7, 2010 at 11:29 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.