Dos and Don’ts While Waiting for an Ambulance

Posted by Lisa O’Neill Hil

Your friend is over for dinner. She’s sitting at the table, fork in hand. All of a sudden, she drops the fork and she looks scared. You ask her what’s wrong, but she’s having trouble talking. You notice that one side of her body appears to be weak, and her mouth is drooping. You know what that means; she’s had a stroke.

You immediately call 911. But you don’t know what you to do while the ambulance is on its way. Is there anything you can do to help your friend? Or should you just wait until the paramedics arrive?

It’s important to be prepared for a medical emergency. Read on to find out what you should and shouldn’t do while you’re waiting for help.


  1. Use the word “stroke” when you call 911.
  2. Tell the 911 operator where you are if you’re calling from a cell phone in case the call drops. You should also give the operator your cell phone number.
  3. Stay on the line with the 911 operator and follow his or her instructions.
  4. Keep the person safe. If she’s conscious, place her on her side. Her head should be slightly raised and supported.
  5. Loosen clothing that could get in the way of breathing.
  6. Note the time. This is important information for doctors.  Most strokes are caused by blood clots. The clot-busting medication tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) can only be given within a few hours of the start of symptoms.
  7. Tell emergency responders what you saw and heard. Describe your friend’s symptoms.
  8. Stay with her. Your friend will be scared.
  9. Remain calm.
  10. If your friend is unconscious, check her pulse and her breathing and start CPR. If you’re unsure how to do that, the 911 operator will walk you through it.
  11. Unlock the front door so paramedics can get in quickly. The 911 operator may tell you to do that or tell you to open the front door ahead of time. With stroke, the sooner the patient receives treatment, the better the chances of survival and recovery.


  1. Drive her to the hospital yourself. A stroke is a medical emergency. Paramedics will let doctors in the emergency room know they are on their way with someone who has had a stroke. The hospital will prepare for the arrival ahead of time.
  2. Give her anything to eat or drink. This could cause her to choke.
  3. Give her any medication, including aspirin.