What to do in a health emergency

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One of the worst things that could happen is experiencing a life-threatening health scare. Being new to the country, you may not know where to get help. The first thing to remember when you or a family member requires urgent medical attention is not to panic. You must act quickly, but calmly in an emergency. In large part, preparation is the key. The following is a guide to help you prepare for a health emergency:

First off, the following are examples of medical emergencies:

  • Heart attack
  • Major trauma
  • Severe head injury
  • Amputation
  • Severe difficulty in breathing (due to an allergic reaction or other cause)
  • Unconsciousness
  • Severe bleeding

The following are urgent health conditions:

  • Head injury but still awake
  • Deep cut
  • Foreign object in eyes, ears
  • High fever in an infant or toddler
  • Chest pain not related to a known heart problem
  • Signs of serious infection

If you are sure that it is an emergency case, follow these steps:

  1. Call 9-1-1 (if your community does not have this service, check the front page of your phone directory for emergency numbers). If you can transport the patient (first, make sure that it is appropriate to do so), most hospitals and health centers have emergency departments that are open 24/7.
  2. If you are calling 9-1-1, provide your name and exact address. If you are calling from a landline, the dispatcher can usually see your address but will still ask to verify. If you live in an apartment building, be sure to provide your specific apartment letter and/or number so that they can locate you quickly.
  3. Give the specifics of the situation. Be as detailed as possible. If you cannot speak in English, ask for interpreter services. This video from CBC talks about interpreter services for 9-1-1 available in most Canadian provinces: 911 interpreters. Persons with hearing loss or speech difficulties may text 9-1-1 (you need to register for this service), and the emergency dispatcher will converse with you using text messaging.
  4. Follow the dispatcher’s instructions closely and do not hang up the phone until he or she says so.
  5. After calling, wait until help arrives. Stay calm. Keep the patient comfortable, but do not move him or her, especially if you suspect that there is a bone or neck injury.

If you are not sure that it is an emergency case

Call Health Links-Info Sante at 204-788-8200 in Winnipeg or toll-free 1-888-315-9257. A registered nurse will help you decide. This line also has a prompt for language translation if you cannot speak English. Calling this number is sometimes better than going straight to 9-1-1 (unless if you are 100% sure that it is an urgent medical situation) because it may prevent you from incurring an unnecessary expense. The use of an ambulance is not free. It costs around $340 (see the current rate here). This may be too much to pay if your medical situation is not dire.

For less urgent medical care

For problems such as possible fracture/sprain, back pain, stomach pain, skin/wound infection, mild or chronic headaches (migraines), minor cuts or burns, colds, sore throat or sinus problems, contact your family doctor, local health clinic, or QuickCare Clinics.

Most hospitals in Manitoba, like St. Boniface Hospital, have free interpreter services if you feel that you cannot express yourself completely in English or French. If you have time to prepare for a medical appointment (if it is weeks away), there are immigrant serving organizations that can assist you with interpretation, such as the Immigrant Women’s Counselling Services (Winnipeg), Sexuality Education Resource Centre (Winnipeg), and Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council Inc. Welcome Place (Winnipeg).

Here’s a quick guide to health care services in Winnipeg (courtesy of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority):
poster on choosing doctor, urgent care or emergency

© Used by permission

How to make an emergency plan:

It would be a good idea to have an emergency plan in place for your family, especially if there are members that are susceptible to seizures, heart attacks and other health issues. Here are some suggested steps for emergency preparedness:

  1. Teach your children how to dial 9-1-1, but make it clear that it is only for emergency use.
  2. Write down emergency numbers and post it where it can be easily seen (preferably near the phone). Also write down your complete address on this list, it will come in handy should you need to call 9-1-1.
  3. Get an E.R.I.K. and post it on your fridge door.
  4. Winnipeg has a Health Services Directory that you can download.
  5. For tips on making a complete emergency plan for all types of contingencies, go to Canada.ca’s Get Prepared site for its emergency preparedness guide. You can also download Your Emergency Preparedness Guide in various formats. The following video will give you an idea about preparing emergency kits for all types of emergencies (Preparing a family emergency kit in plain English from DOJ Nova Scotia):
  6. Consider getting trained in emergency first aid and CPR. Inquire from Winnipeg First Aid, and the Canadian Red Cross.

Article updated on 12/2018.

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Community Resources

If you’re in Winnipeg, here is your quick guide to hospital and health centre roles. Please note that this is posted as of Sept. 2017. The changes will take six to 24 months to complete:
Hospital and health centre roles

© Used by permission

You can also access this poster at the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority site.

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What to do in a health emergency

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