Organizing your medical info can save your life — literally!

If you have chronic illness(es) or are a caregiver, we believe this post is worth the read.  This is a true story, and while we hope no one ever experiences the same thing, we wish to help others prepare for any difficult situation that might arise.

Earlier this year, my 89-year-old Dad and I were traveling out of state to visit his brother for his 90th birthday.  We were holding steady at around 30,000 feet when my Dad literally had heart failure in front of my eyes.  It didn’t look like what I imagined heart failure would look like.  Actually, it looked more like a stroke or seizure.  As (bad) luck would have it, there wasn’t one single medical doctor or nurse on board.  There was, however, a nurse practitioner who helped stabilize him.  While she worked on him, she fired a barrage of questions at me.

Now, having cared for my Dad for years,  I can tell you all his medications, every surgery he has had (and when), what his many medical conditions are, etc. without blinking an eye.  And I am remarkably calm under pressure.  But I was also watching my father in extreme distress, acutely aware of the fact that there was no doctor and no landing strip in sight.  And we were in coach, so everyone was packed in closely, and staring.  We didn’t have a lot of room to move around.  When I couldn’t recall the answer to some of the questions the nurse practitioner was asking me, it could have had devastating consequences.

Good thing I had everything she needed written down and at my fingertips.  My organizational skills potentially saved my father’s life that day.

Years ago, when Dad moved from Brooklyn to our Long Island home, he changed all his doctors.  I was faced with the task of filling out no less than a bazillion forms over and over again.  Each doctor wanted to know his history, his family’s history, all the medications, vaccinations, surgeries, implants and on and on.  I finally decided to type it all out and just write “See Attached” wherever possible.  It started out as a way to help poor old me!  But my father was hospitalized several times and each time, I found that the EMTs and ER staff really benefited from having up-to-date info at their fingertips.  There was no risk of important details being forgotten in the panic of the situation.  After each visit, I would “tweak” the list, adding information that I had been asked about.  By the time we got on that plane, the list was a medical bible.

Every time the nurse practitioner asked me a question, I consulted the list and knew without question that I was giving accurate information.  In an emergency, time is of the essence, and split second life-and-death decisions must be made.

And remember, what was actually happening to my Dad was NOT what it looked like, so it was REALLY important to give accurate information.

It is quite the miracle that my Dad survived that flight.  To this day, the whole thing still seems very surreal.  However, one thing is crystal clear.  From the EMTs that boarded the plane to the doctors in the ER to the surgeons that took over, all of them credited my handy dandy list with making a potentially devastating situation more manageable.

So here’s the point:  Regardless of age, if you have an illness, multiple medical conditions or are a caregiver to someone with the above, compile a list of all pertinent information and carry it with you.  Give copies to loved ones to keep as back up.  And keep a copy near your refrigerator.  According to a recent Newsday article, emergency responders are trained to look there for information.


  • Name and Date of Birth
  • Whether or not the patient speaks English, and if not, what language(s) they do speak
  • Blood type
  • Vaccinations/immunizations.  My father is always asked if he has had the flu shot and/or pneumonia vaccine.
  • Known allergies to medications and/or latex.  This is especially critical in emergency situations!
  • Implants and/or artificial limbs (indicate side of the body the implant is located), including stents, pacemakers, implantable defibrillators (ICD), metal rods etc.  This can be very important because it can determine which tests are run.  E.g., someone with an ICD CANNOT do any test that involves magnets, such as an MRI.
  • Whether the patient wears dentures (full, partial, upper, lower) or contact lenses (important in case emergency surgery is needed).
  • Patient’s medical history and conditions, including dates where applicable, e.g., diabetes (indicate whether insulin-dependent), Parkinson’s, Emphysema, Stroke (2010), Heart Attack (2011) etc.
  • Family history, including parents, siblings and children.  Include age of diagnoses, as well as age and cause of death where applicable/known.
  • A complete list of medications and vitamins/supplements, including emergency-only meds like Epi Pens.  Indicate doses, how many times a day, and why each one is being taken.
  • A list of any former medications you have had adverse reactions to in the past.
  • A complete list of past surgeries, including dates, hospitals, location on the body (e.g., Hip replacement, RIGHT side).
  • Copy of the patient’s most recent EKG, if applicable.  This is very important, because if the patient receives an EKG as part of an emergency response, responders can compare it against the most recent one to see if there has been any change.
  • Whether or not the patient has had any blood transfusions.  Include when and where they were received.
  • Female patients: date of last menstrual period, start of menopause, number of pregnancies, etc.
  • The name and telephone number of the patient’s Primary Care Physician and other relevant specialists (or as my father calls them, his “Baseball team of doctors”.)
  • The name and telephone number of your pharmacy.
  • Your insurance information
  • Contact information for Powers of Attorney and Health Care Proxies (people designated by the patient to make decisions on their behalf should the patient become unable to make these decisions for themselves.)
  • Copies of Advanced Directives, such as a Do Not Resuscitate order (DNR).
  • Any other information that might be helpful, such as being hard of hearing.

This might seem like an excessive amount of information to carry around, but I assure you that it is worth it.  Even if you only need it once, that one time can be the difference between a positive outcome and the unpleasant alternative.  And if nothing else, it will make filling out those tortuous doctor forms much less torturous.

If there is something you feel is missing from this list, please comment below.  We can all learn from each other’s experiences.

Wishing you a healthy and organized life…


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