Help! Au Secours! Hilfe!
Do you know what to say in a medical emergency?
Dr. Michelle Wright, MBChB, MRCGP, Medical Director of HealthFirst
Whether you’ve just moved to Switzerland or been here for a while, you may feel that you don’t speak French or Swiss-German like a local. Getting by in the supermarket or in a restaurant is one thing, but talking about medical or health concerns with a doctor, nurse or paramedic is another. Faced with an emergency situation, when we are likely to be feeling especially stressed and anxious, it can be even more difficult to find the right words to communicate with. And what if you need to call an ambulance urgently? There won’t be time to use translation apps or a dictionary.
A reminder of the emergency numbers in Switzerland:
Ambulance = 144
Fire = 118
Police = 117
Mountain Rescue (REGA) = 1414
Poisoning emergency = 145
I was speaking to one of the 144 phone operators in the canton of Vaud on a training course recently and I asked him whether English was widely spoken by the team. The answer was: “Most of the time there will be someone on duty who can speak English. Callers shouldn’t be afraid to ask if they need this. Their call can then be passed to the appropriate operator.”
Another communication strategy in this region is an agreement with REGA, the Swiss Air- Rescue. All REGA operators are required to be fluent in English and will accept a 144 call being ‘patched through’ to them. A three-way conversation can then be conducted so that the right help gets to the right person.
However, I still believe that we should do our best to learn the local language and feel competent to communicate in the most important situations. This is why HealthFirst has compiled these English-French and English-German important phrases that you may need in a medical emergency situation. Keep them handy; leave them by the home phone, in your car, in your hand-bag or back-pack or tucked inside your First Aid Kit. Save them on your mobile - and make them available to others, including children. Being as prepared as possible will help reduce stress and anxiety in an emergency medical situation.