Many years ago, when cell phones had keyboards and our family had the luxury of owning one cell phone, my husband and our young kids and I took a three hundred mile trip to visit the grandparents. We took two cars, because he had to return to work and I planned to stay longer with the kids.
He had the kids, the cell phone (because he had the kids!) and the bigger of our two old, cranky cars. I was driving the smaller car, all by myself, living my best introvert life for a few quiet hours on the road.
We were driving up the interstate, it was at night (he had to finish the workday before he left), and he was the lead car. I kept their tail lights in view for about 200 miles until I heard a strange grinding sound from the engine, and my car engine just … stopped. Silence.
I watched the tail lights of the car with the rest of my family in it, disappear over a hill. I maneuvered the car to the right shoulder. Put on my hazard lights (the battery was still working; the engine was not). And experienced one of my top five moments of sheer panic.
No cell phone, I’m two hundred miles away from home, one hundred miles away from our destination, and my husband would have no idea something was wrong for at least a few miles; and by then he would have no idea where I was.
Fortunately, after about 20 minutes, a mini-van pulled up in front of me, and a woman asked if I needed help. (“YES!!!!!!!”) And, she had a cell phone.
And fortunately, even though I did not have a phone, I always keep a piece of paper in my car with emergency contact numbers printed on it.
With this kind woman’s help, I called my husband, who by then had realized something was very wrong, to tell him what mile marker I was at.
I called my parents to let them know we would be late. And the woman, who as it turns out, managed a hotel nearby, helped me call a tow truck and book a room.
One of the kindest things you might do for Future You is to print out a few strategic lists of emergency contacts.
Yes, most of us have cell phones now; but batteries fizzle, contact syncing doesn’t always work the way you think it should, unforeseen things happen.
So give yourself the gift of a few analog lists, in a few strategic places.
You can start with a emergency contacts wallet card. I typed up my own, and stuck it in a business card laminator pouch. Writing things on an index card works too.
Things you might want to list on your wallet card
Start by listing your own name and phone number – so someone can contact you if they found, oh, say…. your wallet; and then move on to:
This is not even necessarily about your getting into a car accident (though it’s useful for first responders there, too). Call me weird, but if I’m incapacitated I’m not really clocking who else is reading stuff from my wallet.
I want it available for me to read if I need it.
I have been impressed, in retrospect, by how much critical information gets sponged clean out of my brain during a crisis. (Not sure if this is an evolutionary feature or a bug… why DO people’s minds go blank during a crisis? I know it’s not just me…)
If you too suffer from occasional brain freeze at the very worst times, It’s good to have even basic stuff written down. Like your name. I wish I were kidding.
Then if you ever find yourself staring at your emergency wallet card in a cold sweat wondering, “Now what?” …you’ll at least know whom to call.