Maybe you returned from your honeymoon to a pile of wedding gifts and decided to use as many new kitchen appliances as possible in one meal. Maybe that’s how you ended up in the urgent care with a small but non-negligible chunk missing from your thumb. It is wider than it is deep, so stitches are probably out, but if it’s still bleeding after an hour and urgent care is only a few blocks away, probably you will go, just in case.
“It was a mandoline, wasn’t it?” The notably chill doctor might say.
“How’d you know?”
“I see so many mandoline injuries just like that. Mandolines and buzzsaws: no one should own either of those.”
There won’t be much they can do, except wait for the bleeding to stop, wrap it up, and ask you when your last tetanus shot was.
“Oh gosh, like 10 years ago?” you’ll guess, unhelpfully. And the doctor will explain that 10 years happens to be the exact cutoff for tetanus shot effectiveness. And so, if you can’t remember for sure, you’ll just have to get another one.
This will not be too much of a hassle, and overlapping tetanus shots are not dangerous. But boy, will it hurt. Enough that when you get home, between the one bandaged thumb and the dead-arm from the shot, you might just end up slicing your other thumb with a knife.
Which is a pretty compelling argument for keeping track of when you got your last tetanus shot. “Write it on your insurance card,” the doctor might suggest. “Or the back of your mandoline.”
So, okay, 1. Most recent vaccinations. Write ‘em all down in your phone. You never know when you’ll slice your finger off or travel to a country where they want to know this stuff.
But what other personal medical info (that you don’t inherently know like “do you get awful persistent migraines?”) should you keep readily available? We reached out to a real live nurse for help on this one.
2. Types and dates of surgeries: Will you probably be able to think of this information if you have to? Yes. Is it better to not waste both yours and the doctor’s time musing about how isn’t funny that eventually all the years start to run together while trying to remember how long ago you had your wisdom teeth out? Absolutely.
3. Prescriptions: Names and dosages. Not just “birth control” but what kind. Not just “100...units?” but the actual amounts. Even if you think you know this off the top of your head, make a note of the details. This way, it’s easy to track any changes, which doctors might ask about, and easy for someone else to access in an emergency.
4. Contacts/glasses prescription: Similar to above but for different reasons. Doctors likely won’t ever ask you about this, but if you ever find yourself away from home and suddenly without eye-enhancements, it’ll be much easier to procure replacements if you know what you need.
5. Blood type: Admittedly, I do not now, nor have I ever, known my blood type. But don’t be like me! In Antarctica, you have to keep a record of your blood type with you at all times because they don’t have any blood banks down there and so instead rely on other people as “walking blood banks” in the event of an emergency. This is usually not a concern on the other six continents, but, come on, there are only so many options—you and I should both be able to memorize this one, especially since it’s shown to have other health implications.
6. Your primary care physician and pharmacy name, number, fax: This is information that’s likely searchable, and can be done without in the event of a true emergency. But you’ll do yourself a favor by keeping this information handy. A phone or fax number for the pharmacy will eliminate the step of having to bring in a scrip and keeping your primary care physician’s contact information available should save you from having to tote physical records with you from specialist to specialist.
7. Significant family medical history: This one comes up all the time and honestly, I usually take the path of least resistance and just say there’s nothing serious. I’m lucky because that’s largely true and the degree to which it’s not has yet to bite me in the ass. But as I get older (and start exclusively seeing doctors who have never met my parents) hereditary issues beyond bad eyes and a big nose will probably start cropping up and I should do Future Me the favor of sitting down with my parents once and for all and writing down my family medical history.
This is all easier than it sounds—just take a few minutes to put everything in a note on your phone, and update it as necessary. If it comes in handy even once, it could be among the most worthwhile things you’ll ever do.