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Emergency! - Overview

Emergencies can strike anyone, at any time. Some are unexpected and unfold quickly; others are preventable. Equip yourself with practical information that could mean the difference between life and death.

My close friend is looking lethargic and is insomniac. Is she suffering from depression?

Text by Lyn Chan

The last time Ms Tan Jing Jing swallowed her handful of daily supplements at one go, she fought against choking to death during the longest six minutes of her life.

Recalling that frightful experience, she admitted, "I was lazy. And I figured I could just drink water to push them down if they got stuck."

The pills did indeed bunch up and get stuck in her oesophagus. And she drank water, lots of it. Unfortunately, glugging water did not work. Panic did not set in, until she realised she had to gasp for air.

Find out the numbers to call in an emergency

No one was home at the time, and Ms Tan wondered if she would die. She forced herself to cough hard and eventually, managed to disgorge the supplements. Thinking back on that frightening experience, she said, "I know about the Heimlich manoeuvre but back then, I didn't know I could use on myself."

Fortunately for her, Ms Tan's windpipe was only partially obstructed. A full blockage and the failure to expel the culprit would have resulted in a different and more tragic ending.

Choking incidents are preventable, said Dr Teng Sung Shin, a consultant with the Department of Emergency Medicine, KK Women's and Children's Hospital.

Dr Teng highlighted that coughing hard was the correct thing to do. The Heimlich manoeuvre would also have worked. But do avoid feeding the casualty more water or food.


Unlike Ms Tan's mishap, Mr Simon Tay's brush with death could have been averted had he not dismissed early signs of heart trouble.

The shift supervisor admitted that some warning signs of a heart attack started showing days before. "I was suddenly and unusually tired for a few days before my heart attack." He thought it was due to work stress and dismissed it. On the eve of that fateful day, his ankles also swelled up.

Still, Mr Tay did not see himself as a candidate for a heart attack. This was despite having not actively exercised for nearly 18 months, and having piled on 10 kg in 18 months. When he felt some twangs of pain in his chest earlier last year (2018), he figured a restful sleep would be the panacea.

But the uncomfortable pressure did not dissipate. Instead, it intensified, spreading throughout his chest and upwards. "Not good," he had thought. "This feels serious."


By then, Mr Tay's parents were anxiously hovering over him, offering to make a phone call to their elder son to have him send Mr Tay to hospital. This would have been a potentially deadly move if Mr Tay's brother had been caught in a traffic jam on the way over, or on the way to the hospital. Fortunately, Mr Tay directed his parents to call 995 instead.

When the paramedics arrived 15 minutes later, Mr Tay's entire chest was feeling like it was on fire, with the sensation reaching up to his lower jaw. Both his hands were also feeling numb.

It turned out Mr Tay had suffered a heart attack. He even lost consciousness upon arrival at the hospital. "For 30 seconds!" he said in disbelief, recollecting the day. According to his doctors, every minute he had remained unconscious would have added to his life being in danger. "If it were 10 minutes... jialat (terrible)!" he said.

The gravity of his brush with death struck a chord with Mr Tay; he knew he needed to overhaul his lifestyle in order to better manage his condition. He ditched his usual diet of saturated-fat- filled and sugar-laden grub, and started taking long walks at MacRitchie Reservoir.

Realising the importance of knowing what to do during medical emergencies, Mr Tay also signed up for a certified cardiopulmonary resuscitation and automated external defibrillator course. He has also left clear instructions for his parents on what to do should they ever find him unconscious at home or in pain — call 995 for an ambulance!


Both Ms Tan and Mr Tay learnt the hard way that emergencies do not just happen to other people. Being prepared for an emergency not only averts death, but also prevents irreversible damage to the brain or heart. Especially tricky are medical situations like a cardiac arrest as they tend to unfold rapidly and cause panic.

Apart from medical situations, there are also situational emergencies like poisoning, drowning incidents, and fire. While preventable, these are also emergencies that could hit you or your loved ones. Whatever the emergency, time could mean the difference between life or death when emergencies strike. The best bet, then, is to be prepared.

Know your emergency numbers

Emergency! — Depression Myths


Emergency! — Choking

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