Who will speak for you if you become unable to speak for yourself or suffer a medical emergency? Have you planned for that unexpected possibility? You hope it won’t happen, but if it does, you must be ready.You must have the tools on hand to take proper care of you and to ensure that your wishes are followed.

The first and most important planning tool is a Health Care Directive (a “Health Care Proxy” or a “Power of Attorney for Health Care”). This essential legal tool appoints a chosen and trusted person to communicate your wishes and decisions to medical professionals. If you can speak, then your wishes control, but if you cannot then your Health Care Agent will have full legal authority to speak with your doctor and to consent to treatment. Most importantly your Agent can refuse treatments that you may not want, such as feeding tubes or ventilators.

It is vital that you have a discussion with your named Agent, and communicate your health care wishes to him or her. But, there are other ways to make your wishes known, and they can help if your Agent isn’t nearby when an emergency occurs.

One tool is often called a File of Life Kit or sometimes a Vial of Life Kit. This is a listing of personal information, emergency contacts, current medications and conditions and other information an emergency responder might need. It is often kept in the kitchen and sometimes in the refrigerator. It can be in a box, folder or in a prescription medicine vial. Many local senior centers and fire departments offer these kits, sometimes you can get them at local pharmacies or during special promotional events. You can also get the form that you fill out and put in a vile or folder from: www.vialoflife.com. Often the kits come with a magnet to put on the outside of your fridge letting EMTs know the vial is inside.

Another new tool is called ICE (which stands for In Case of Emergency). If you have a cell phone, you can put in an entry under the name ICE. Put the phone number of the person who is your emergency contact, or the number of the person who is your health care agent. EMTs and Police will often check a person’s cell phone to try to contact family. Names without descriptions are not always helpful, but the ICE entry is becoming well known and is something they look for. You can enter more than one contact by using ICE1, ICE2, etc. In many phones, if you put an asterisk (*) in front of ICE, the entry will show up on top of your contact list.

You should also have an emergency wallet card with similar information as in your Vial of Life kit (at least as much as will fit on a wallet sized card.) You can often get this type of card with a Vial of Life Kit, or from your local senior center, fire department or other agencies. You can also find ones online that you can print out. The information should be printed on stiff card-stock so it will survive in your wallet. You should also consider using a bright color so an EMT or Police Officer will notice it in your wallet.

If you plan for an emergency and it never happens, you won’t mind the wasted time. But if you fail to plan and an emergency happens, you may not be able to regret your mistake, but your family will. In Case of an Emergency, get yourself ready.