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Handling a Medical Emergency

Rita Makana Risser

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How do you handle a medical emergency in the audience?

Based on the following responses, I think now I would do a combination of the suggestions and some unique ideas due to my particular subject matter, as follows:

  1. Ask if there is a doctor or nurse in the audience.
  2. Let medical personnel decide about calling 911. If no medicos, then ask someone to call 911.
  3. Ask several people to go outside of the room to
      a. contact facility manager (many have CPR-trained staff)
      b. meet 911 responders outside and guide to the room
  4. Ensure the rows are clear around the victim, and in the entrance way.
  5. Find out the name of the person.
  6. Due to my subject matter, this is what I would say to the audience:

    "When someone became ill in old Hawaii, traditionally the family and others nearby would all stop what they were doing, become quiet, and focus their attention on healing thoughts for the person. So if you would like to practice that, take one minute now to put all your attention into healing thoughts for (name)."

  7. After that minute, say, "If you would like to continue thinking healing thoughts for (name) go ahead and do so, and otherwise please sit quietly."
  8. To quote Alan Weiss: Once the emergency people dealt with it, I'd call a short break, then report whatever status I'd heard, and continue with my presentation. I'd ask the organizers whether to extend my time or finish at the original time.

-- Alan Weiss

I would stop immediately, and ask people to remain in their seats and not move until help arrives. I'd have the area next to the person cleared. Once the emergency people dealt with it, I'd call a short break, then report whatever status I'd heard, and continue with my presentation. I'd ask the organizers whether to extend my time or finish at the original time.

-- Stephen Tweed

A member of the audience became ill at the NSA convention in the middle of Jeanne Robertson's talk. Since the person was near the front and it was obvious that there was a problem, Jeanne stopped, let the audience know that there was a problem, and asked them to sit quietly while medical care was provided and the person was transported to a hospital.

In another situation, a similar thing happened near the back of the room. Ushers and other officials took charge quickly, and the speaker continued on. This kept the audience's attention away from the person who was ill and the situation at the back of the room.

-- Dottie Walters

(from the book What to Say When You're Dying on the Platform by Lilly Walters)

Call over the mic for a doctor. Announce an immediate break in the program for 10 minutes. Go directly to the person and offer aid, and solace. Take the person's hand, as you would a member of your family's. As soon as the person is removed from the room, call for the audience to return. Then lead a moment of silent prayer and proceed.

-- Rebecca Morgan

Once a medical person is with the patient, if s/he is still in the room, say something like, "The situation is being attended to by a medical professional. While I'm sure she appreciates all our concern, I doubt she would want everyone to watch as she is attended to. So, I'm going to ask you to discuss with your neighbor (something relevant to your last point or a point in your talk). I'll let you know when to stop and apprise you of the situation." I think it's much better to do something while acknowledging the situation rather than have everyone watch and speculate. Then keep them apprised as the EMT comes or if she is taken out of the room.

-- Brian Walsh

  1. Instruct audience to remain calm and quiet.
  2. Repeat the request to the audience for medical personnel.
  3. Let medical personnel decide about calling 911. If not, then request assistance from anyone who has a cell phone.
  4. Advise audience to take a 15 minute break, including a sharing exercise to discuss the last part of your talk.
  5. Ensure the rows are clear around the victim, and in the entrance way. Appoint 5 people to ensure this is done.
  6. Send someone for water and blankets, if none are at hand.
  7. At some point relinquish control to event organizers or venue staff.

-- Beryl Shaw

Always acknowledge an emergency. Being on the platform, you are in charge.

You are in the perfect position to reinforce the message. After repeating, "Is there a doctor or nurse in the audience?" I'd ask, "Will someone hand me a cell phone, please." Then refer back to the person who called out: "Can the person who called out please let me know the nature of the medical problem?" so you have accurate information to call 911 yourself -- don't leave it to someone who is already blown away by the problem. Then make sure someone who works at the venue knows what is happening. If you have any medical training yourself, you may have to leave the platform momentarily and tackle the problem.

When it's sorted, your audience will be free to be calmed down with whatever info you have about what's happened --- before you take a deep breath (quite obviously, so they know they're not the only ones who've been shaken up) -- and continue.

-- Robert Skoglund

You can prevent some emergencies from happening. I'm a humorist -- a storyteller. Many years ago a man laughed at something I said and choked. I now refuse to perform on stage while people are still eating and would advise any speaker with even the least amount of wit to do the same.

-- Bob Alper

As a comedian, I have a different set of circumstances than a traditional speaker. A few years ago, I was performing at a synagogue when I noticed that an older man had slumped over onto his wife. I stopped the show, and, being a Jewish audience, there was no shortage of doctors. Paramedics were called, and people milled about. About half an hour went by, until, fortunately, the man was able to walk out of the room and go home. I was able to continue with the show.

Had the man died, or had it been more serious, we probably would have cancelled due to the inappropriateness of laughing at that time. A speaker on a more serious topic may have been able to continue, after some remarks that addressed the situation.

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