Making Medical Emergencies A Little
Easier For Your Family

Lafayette Senior Services Newsletter
Summer Edition, 2011

As an estate planning attorney, I often am asked to help clients when there is an emergency and the family is thrown into a state of panic. I have visited hospital rooms and skilled nursing facilities. In the still of night, I was present for a daughter who (reluctantly) admitted her dear mother with Alzheimer’s to a nursing home. I have sat in the waiting room while a husband removed his wife from life support. These have been very profound and stressful experiences for my clients.

It is inevitable that your family and friends will experience incredible stress if you suddenly face a medical emergency. However, if you plan ahead and think practically, you can make such times a little easier.

I am very impressed by a free service called Vial of L.I.F.E. (Lifesaving Information For Emergencies). I believe that using this program can be a great help to your family and/or first responders during an emergency. Specifically, the program provides a simple way to communicate important medical facts and personal information if you are unable to speak.

Here’s how it works: First, you fill out a form provided for free by Vial of L.I.F.E. The form asks basic information (date of birth, blood type, religion, etc.), medical history (last hospitalization, allergies, current medications, primary doctor) and contact information for your loved ones. The form also indicates where the Health Care Directive and “Do Not Resuscitate” (DNR) forms, if any, are located in your home. Second, you roll up the form and place it in an oversized pill vial with a sticker on it labeled “Vial of L.I.F.E.” The vial then goes in your refrigerator. (It is usually recommended to place the vial on the top shelf of the door, because it has been shown that the refrigerator's contents are preserved in the event of a fire.) Third, you place a sticker on the front of your refrigerator to indicate that there is a vial inside. Finally, you place another sticker labeled “Vial of L.I.F.E.” in your front window so that responding emergency personnel will know to look for the vial in the refrigerator.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself: If I became incapacitated, will first responders know your medical history? They would if you had a Vial of L.I.F.E. Do your family and doctor have copies of any legal health care documents? If not, provide them. Are your family members’ current phone numbers on these documents? If not, update them. Remember to do this for anyone in your household.

As an estate planner, I feel a deep sense of satisfaction when a client’s affairs are “in order.” I also have seen how important these planning measures are during a time of crisis. Many of the steps that help your family are not particularly difficult or expensive, especially in light of the huge difference they can make.

Visit Vial of L.I.F.E. at

Stefanie West is an estate planning attorney and a Commissioner on the City of Lafayette Senior Services Commission.

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