The first few minutes after you dial 999 are the most criticial. Not just for the ambulance crew dashing through the streets, but for your own wellbeing over the next few hours and days. What should you be doing while you wait for emergency help to arrive? What's essential to have to hand, and what can you safely leave alone? The following suggestions are based on my first-hand experiences, beginning just before 6am yesterday morning.
OK, so you've dialled 999. Well done. Don't panic. Now put the phone down somewhere obvious, just in case you need to ring again, and plan ahead carefully. For starters, stop and think about the symptoms you're currently experiencing. Everybody you meet for the next few hours is going to ask you exactly the same "How did you feel?" question, so it helps to have a good description already prepared. Something useful like "I was sweating and it felt all tingly down my right-hand side". Something evocative like "it felt like an army of devils were dragging their fiery pitchforks across my chest". Or something direct and to the point like "it bloody hurt". This'll all be useful information later.
Don't waste your time tidying the flat before the 999 crew arrive. You might think the place looks a tip, but they've seen far worse. Don't waste your time Googling your symptoms to see what strange condition you might have. Somebody else will tell you properly later, and they know what they're talking about. And it's probably not a good idea to waste valuable seconds publishing a blogpost about 1978 ice lolly prices. Your readers will never realise they've missed it, and there's far more important stuff to be done.
What are you wearing? You might end up in these clothes for rather longer than you expected, so change into something practical, comfortable and at least semi-fashionable. Nobody else where you're going will care what you look like, but you'll feel a lot more dignified if you're wearing jeans rather than elasticated slacks. Spare clean underwear is always useful (and certainly better than wearing no underwear at all - oops!). Select appropriate footwear with care (something slip-on that isn't sandals would be perfect), and place them on your feet before the ambulance crew arrive so that they don't have to waste two valuable minutes while you get yourself ready. Remember too that you'll be coming home in these clothes, so avoid fluffy Mickey Mouse slippers at all costs.
Now fill your pockets. Two absolute essentials are a wallet and your front door keys. There's nothing worse than waking up in hospital and realising that you have no means of ever getting home. Ladies will probably find this preparation much easier than gentlemen because they already keep all their essentials in a single handbag. Blokes beware! And grab your mobile phone too. You might end up in a semi-lenient ward where mobile use is tolerated, and this'll makes communication with friends and family so much easier. You might want to stick your phone on charge for a few more precious minutes while you still can, because if the battery runs out when you're in hospital, you'll be irrevocably incommunicado.
Life on a hospital ward can be unutterably dull, especially if you end up in an A&E-related ward with no TV, no radio and no exploitativePatientlineservices. A couple of hours of watching sick people being wheeled past on trolleys is probably all that you'll be able to withstand. Be sure to take some distractions with you. That book you've been meaning to read for ages, or a magazine, or even better ten magazines. Anything to keep your mind occupied and not just mulling over your own predicament. But probably not a laptop, Gameboy or PSP or similar - they already have plenty of flashy electrical devices in hospitals and frown on you bringing more.
Don't forget your toothbrush. It's all too easy to forget it in the madcap rush to exit your house. And a pair of glasses, if you normally wear them. You don't want to end up in a strange blurry myopic world, unable to see quite what's going on. And a razor. That's unless you want to grow three days of unkempt manly stubble, because it might just impress some of the nurses, you never know.
If you have a sense of humour, take it with you. There may be some pretty unpleasant sights and undignified sounds where you're going. Drained faces, persistent sobbing, agonised screams and a lot of pissing into cardboard urine bottles - all things you're not used to experiencing in your everyday life. And it won't be like on the TV where everybody makes a splendid recovery just before the closing credits. Not everyone you see will be going home. A smile may just help you to get through the humbling experience that lies ahead of you.
Now, where's that ambulance got to? Ah, there it is. I wonder if Tom's come to see me? Deep breath. It's all for the best, you know. Open the door, and let's get going...