Staying Safe

Posted by Nurse Linda in Life After Paralysis on July 04, 2022 # Health

Everyone thinks about safety but until you actually have plans for keeping your family safe, you may not be as prepared as you think. Establishing a plan and making sure everyone understands its importance is critical when swift actions need to take place.

Whatever you decide to do as an action plan, make sure you have communicated it with your family and have ‘emergency walk-throughs’ so any oversight can be corrected. Sometimes talking about a plan and actually doing it are different realities. When you have a practice, you will see some of the finer points of safety have perhaps been overlooked. A plan in your mind is an excellent start but acting it out is quite different.

Photo of smoke alarm with smoke and flames from iStockPhotoIf there is a disaster in your home, such as fire, weather events, flooding, or other incidents, you need to get everyone to safety. Babies can be scooped up but older children, teens, or those who require specialized medical equipment for mobility are not so easily lifted. Breathing is a primary concern so if mechanical ventilation is required, you will need a plan to keep breathing uninterrupted.

Think about the services that are requirements for your household. Be sure to contact your emergency responders for your area. This includes police, fire, EMTs, utility companies, and ambulance services if different from the EMT service. Before an emergency arises, notify them now to make sure your house is flagged as requiring electrical service for mechanical ventilation, cardiac alarms, suctioning equipment, or other equipment that requires electricity. They will want to know if you have explosive equipment in your home such as oxygen tanks that can erupt in a fire or disaster. Making emergency personnel aware of your family situation will flag your house so appropriate services are provided quickly as well as assist with moving you to an appropriate setting.

Have alternative equipment available. If mechanical ventilation is used, be sure to have an ambu bag or handheld equipment to provide breathing in times of a power failure. Many families will have an emergency generator installed in their home for such situations. Think about the requirements of your child to be sure you have a backup system for any electrically powered equipment they use.

Manual suctioning equipment is available. This takes some practice to be able to use it effectively. If feeding is performed through a mechanical pump, you will need a gravity manual system for emergencies. If your home is flagged for emergency personnel response, you may not immediately need these particular items depending on response time. Even with preventive notification, weather and other emergencies may make response time a bit longer than usual so having emergency equipment is necessary.

Two huge pieces of electrical equipment are power chairs and power beds. If electricity is off for a while, especially at night when you might not notice, a power chair may not have enough stored power to work. Beds may not be able to be adjusted in height, alternating pressure mattresses may not be working, or air mattresses that pump up using electrical power may go flat. Other pressure dispersing equipment may not be working. A manual chair that can accommodate pressure dispersing equipment can be used temporarily but pressure releases should still be used. Hospital beds are mostly constructed of metal. Without a pressure dispersing mattress your child is basically laying on metal. A pressure injury can develop in minutes. Have a bed overlay available or temporarily move the child to a regular mattress and turn every 10 to 15 minutes until help arrives.

Getting out of a house may be a challenge. Plan how you could get your child out safely as well as yourself. One adult or older child might be responsible for other children with another adult attending specifically to the child with mobility needs.

If you can carry your child to safety, do so. But if your child is grown, there are some simple devices that can be obtained. Simple stretchers, canvas rescue carriers, or even heavy plastic carriers are available to move an individual. These should be used only in extreme danger as they do not have any skin protection or body support. Once in safety, move the child to a pressure dispersing surface. Remember, also, in an ambulance stretcher your child will need manual turning for skin safety. The ambulance stretcher has some pressure dispersion but is most likely not as effective as the equipment their skin has become accustomed.

In storms, you may need to shelter in place for safety. Going down basement stairs may not be an option. Look around your home for a safe shelter. This may be a room without a window, like an interior bathroom or even a closet. Bathrooms can be good alternatives as the windows are typically smaller but will need covering. If you need to stay in a regular room in your home, think about how you can protect the windows either by moving something in front of the window or covering it quickly to protect from broken glass.

Broken pipes can be a huge issue. Gas has no smell, but the gas company adds a chemical to make it smell like rotten eggs. Broken gas pipes are typically noted by this smell. Water can quickly flood your home if a pipe is broken or if rainwater is seeping in. Both problems indicate the time to get out of the house. Think about a safe place to go and how you might safely get there.

Electrical wires that are damaged or down are serious. Do not attempt to fix these yourself. Electrocution is a possibility. A fire can easily start. Remove your family from the home.

Fire can start from a variety of situations. This can include electrical, lightning, or ignitions from other sources. This is another time to remove your family immediately from your home. Smoke from the fire can overwhelm your body before you even notice an issue.

In all emergency cases, call 911. With your prenotification of the special needs in your home, they will come prepared for your unique situation.

Practice what you would do in each situation. Have the whole family walk through their safety measures in a calm and orderly fashion. This will help you see where improvements can be made. Think about alternatives for each family member. If you cannot get out of the house through the front door, how would each member get out? Is escape through a window possible? Put your hand on a closed door to see if it is cool to go through or if it is hot, keep it closed. If there is smoke, stay close to the floor or crawl to get out. Figure out where you will meet once out of the house. This should be a spot close enough to get to but far enough from your home for safety.

Another issue is if there is an intruder in your home. If you were out and come home to find the door open or other signs that your home has been entered, do not go in, but rather call 911. The police know how to check to ascertain if someone is still present in your home.

There are bold individuals out there who will enter someone’s home even while the family is present. Sometimes this is for thievery and sometimes, they do it for their own entertainment or just to see if they can. Have some protection measures ready. Use a home alarm system. Some are very expensive but very secure and will automatically notify the police. Some are less expensive door stoppers that will set off a loud alarm, hopefully frightening away the intruder. If your alarm is triggered, do not explore on your own. Call the police to manage the situation.

Baby monitors have been hacked in recent times. Many adults of children with healthcare needs use these devices for the safety of their babies as well as for older children. If you have a baby monitor, check to see if someone is talking with your child over the monitor. Some monitors have closed-circuit cameras but not audio. Both can be used nefariously. Be cautious, most individuals do not have issues but if your child tells you a story, listen to them. Listen to your children if they tell you about a ‘new friend’ in their room or other odd sorts of stories. Take these stories seriously.

We all want to protect ourselves and our families. With protection comes thinking about situations before they arise. Practice your family’s safety measures. Do not assume that everyone will react in the same way as you would. Children will think differently than adults. Practicing emergency walk-throughs will bring up questions that can be resolved. The best scenario is to be prepared.

Linda Schultz is a leader, teacher, and provider of rehabilitation nursing for over 30 years. In fact, Nurse Linda worked closely with Christopher Reeve on his recovery and has been advocating for the Reeve Foundation ever since.

Find out more about Nurse Linda here.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.