An Afternoon with the Paramedics

Jun 15

An Afternoon with the Paramedics

On Sunday, June 14, we were able to visit the Ottawa Paramedic Service Headquarters. The visit was arranged by the Ottawa Anaphylaxis Support Group, and it was an excellent opportunity for the group, which was made up mainly of anaphylactic children and their parents, to learn about what paramedics do, how the paramedic centre is run, and how paramedics respond to an anaphylactic reaction. The educational presentations and question-and-answer session were fascinating and informative, and the children were thrilled to be able to explore several different ambulances and areas of this state-of-the-art facility.

The Ottawa Paramedic Service Headquarters is one of the best paramedic systems in North America; and, in Canada, it is second only to the paramedic headquarters in Toronto. It has 360 paramedics on staff and takes 103,000 9-1-1 calls per year. Presenter Darryl Wilton, President of the Professional Paramedic Association of Ottawa, shared some 9-1-1 tips to keep in mind in case you need to call for an ambulance for treatment of an anaphylactic reaction (note that most of these points are universal, but some may not apply in other cities):

  1. Always administer epinephrine first – before calling 9-1-1. Darryl said that he has seen first-hand how administering epinephrine at the earliest possible opportunity results in the most favorable outcomes. He also pointed out that epinephrine is a relatively safe medication and, therefore, there should be no hesitation in giving it if you have any reason to think that an allergic reaction may be occurring.
  2. Identify the emergency as anaphylaxis. After you’ve called 9-1-1 and have been transferred to a paramedic, state that the emergency is an anaphylactic reaction. This will give your call the highest priority – Code 4, which is for a life-threatening emergency.
  3. The next-most important information you can give is your address, although GPS coordinates will work as well.
  4. Don’t second-guess the paramedics. Once the ambulance has arrived, don’t challenge the treatment the paramedics are administering. They work from complex and effective algorithms that have been proven to save lives.
  5. Give the patient’s family doctor and allergist’s names to the emergency department physician. This will ensure that copies of your emergency department records are included in your medical files.

Finally, Darryl cautioned that it is better to call paramedics than to try to get yourself to the hospital. Paramedics are able to deliver faster emergency care than the emergency department. He also noted that emergency department physicians are much less likely to administer epinephrine for an allergic reaction than are paramedics.

I must admit that I was worried this visit would be frightening and dreary, and we had second thoughts about cutting our weekend time at the cottage short in order to attend. It was our son, whose heart was set on seeing all of the ambulances, who encouraged us to go. And we’re glad he did!