“In case of emergency”….then what?

I recently had the dilemma that I guess a lot of single people do. I’ve had it before, and when the problem was new to me, the first few times, I just sat there and cried when I was faced with it. My dilemma was about the line one see on many forms, in hospital emergency rooms, and most recently when requesting additional pages in my passport. It’s a pretty standard question: Emergency contact. Who to call in an emergency. It’s a pretty simple question, right? Not always. For 32 years of my life, since the age of 17, I was married, and all I had to do was write my husband’s name into the ‘emergency contact’ line. But if you find yourself unmarried, without a significant other, have no adult siblings, no parents (who past a certain age you don’t want to upset anyway by putting them in the front line for bad news), it really becomes a knotty problem, I’ve never felt so alone in my life. I had gotten this old and I had no one to contact in an emergency. I felt like a total loser.

I have children in their early and mid twenties now, old enough to be responsible, and three slightly older ones who are married. But do I really want them getting some hideous 4 am phone call, from a stranger, telling them something terrible? A spouse can at least break the news to them gently if something bad ever happens to me (I hope not, but I do travel a lot, and things can happen in today’s world). I thought of putting my lawyer’s name down on that line for the passport agency, but she said that she is often not reachable. My best woman friend travels a lot too. l The person whose name I always end up putting on that line is my wonderful assistant of 19 years, a terrific, kind, lovely responsible young woman, and I figure she’ll know what to do. But when I see my assistant’s name on that line it always pulls me up short and makes me think about life again. How did I wind up in a situation where the person I write in as ‘next of kin’ for an emergency is an assistant? It’s on of those little, and maybe even not so little reminders that you’ve made some mistakes in your life, big ones. There should be someone other than an assistant on that line, someone who loves you and will be there for you.

I’ve been divorced for 8 years now. The time has rolled along. I’ve become independent, I love my freedom, and I’m having a good time. But now and then, you sprain an ankle, cut your finger, and wind up in an emergency room, and there’s that damn line again, like an accusation, reminding you that you’re alone, without a partner to rely on if something goes wrong. It certainly wouldn’t be worth getting married again just for that, and surely not to the wrong person so you have a name to put on that line. But it’s a reminder, and not a welcome one, when you’re alone. Hopefully, we all have someone who cares about us on that line. But some people just don’t. I could always put my kids on it, but that seems so hard on them. So my assistant is still on that emergency contact line, and has been for eight years. I’m lucky to have her. Some people have no one at all….but it still jolts me every time I see it, and is a painful reminder that I did something wrong, and made mistakes in my life. I don’t think of it often, and I really enjoy my life. After years of being married, sometimes in difficult circumstances, sometimes being alone is better….but when I see that damn ‘emergency contact’ line, I’m always reminded of what I don’t have…maybe one day…you never know, and if it were finally the right person, wouldn’t that be nice! And in the meantime, my assistant’s name and number will do just fine.

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20 Comments so far
  1. Arthur Van Horn April 13, 2010 8:05 am

    I enjoyed reading your book-Toxic Bachelors. One of the characters in it was Arthur Van Horn.
    I wondered if this had some significance to you
    or was just a random selection?

  2. September April 14, 2010 5:33 am

    Dear Ms. Steel,

    I can so relate to how you feel. I got married at 19 and moved to the US, leaving my entire family on the other side of the world and so had my husband as my “emergency contact number” for a while. Then years ago we got a divorce and it’s been another roommate or a friend, who’s name I use here and there. I just try not to think too much about it. I’ve realized that all I can do is to learn to live with it. If you don’t give it too much thought it is just a line on a paper form.

  3. PJ April 14, 2010 1:10 pm

    Get your point, but if you are going to leave some dough to your children, one of them should be listed. If you add your assistant to your will, fine, it’s just that the one charged with the toughest responsibility should have a compensating reward.

  4. Janice Matthews April 14, 2010 9:22 pm

    Now come on, first 9 children and you don’t want to bother them? You had them when 17???? You don’t want to bother the 20 plus and or the married ones? Okay, here is what I went through. I was married to a wonderful man and one day we had one of those calls……..they called him……he was with another woman and had turn off his phone and since I also travel a lot, he did not even know that a cab took me to the emergency and did surgery! Long story we went our ways and I too have the same forms but now I don’t even know who to leave all my treasures to and or who will take care of my little dog that travels. Oh, I have dated and the men try to be so wonderful…….BE CAREFUL……money is huge to some of the finest, one was even a judge! No, If I were you I would forget the men and lonely stuff and get one of the kids that have appeared to handle such things and have them call them. The attorney will take care of the will and all will be fine. You have been married, if it was to be it would be. You are happy, successful, beautiful, and you have to be careful. These are not good times and better to have good friends than a bad relationship. God knows whats up…..let him do the job and you have a good time. If you want a relationship, find a woman who shares the same interests, has the same funds you have and see the world as at this age it is good to have a great time and travel. The best relationship I saw was two women whose husbands had gone, one divorce, one passed and they were neighbors and tried to have dinner together, catch a show and went back to their houses. Then they got smart and got a house where they could have PRIVATE time but they did everything. MOST IMPORTANT that line was the others name and guess what???? SHE SHOWED UP TO DO the job that line is for and got the one gal to the hospital!! Take care dear heart!

  5. Joann April 16, 2010 2:48 pm

    I am saddened that you feel like a total loser. How can you say that with everything that you have achieved in your life? You have nine wonderful children, a successful writing career and you are able to travel to a beautiful country, where you can stay for more than a week on vacation. In my eyes your are far from being a total loser because you are divorced. I am sure it was a mutual discision to divorce and that doesn’t make you a loser or a failure. It just means that two people want different things at that point in their lives. Please Danielle, I am sure that if you put your oldest daughter’s or son’s name down on the “next of kin” line, that they would want it that way. I am married, but when they want a next of kin that doesn’t live with you…I put my oldest daughter’s name down and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
    Love to you always, J~

  6. shruti April 17, 2010 2:31 am

    hi.. i’m shruti and im from India..
    reading… well in last 20 years of my life ..all that i have read are my text books and few novels.. i picked up one of your’s and started reading… “the kiss”… and i cant stop myself now from reading on and on and on…
    just happen to visit your blog and the latest post as on 12th april (which is suppossed to be my b’day)… and i felt .. how strange…. the one person known to millions and billions is so alone..well…. we all love you .. as a novelist and a person.. your great… i think solitude is also a great feeling which is a part of every living being over here… anyways.. ma’am your just great… thx 🙂

  7. Lorraine April 18, 2010 9:33 am

    Dear Danielle,
    You can put all your fans down as your emergency contacts!!!!!!!!!! I’m sure many of us would love to come to your rescue! You have such a diverse lifestyle. A man could be a nice extension of your life, but that does not define the wonderful woman you are. I think you will find the right man again! Love, Lorraine

  8. Chelle April 21, 2010 9:53 am

    Ms. Steel, I’ve been a fan of your writing for many years. Aren’t we all, ultimately alone? I think so. But you’ve made me think. Having that emergency contact person is reassuring, but I don’t think if you don’t have somoeone on that line it means you’ve done something wrong. I think it means you’re a warm human when you can examine yourself that thoroughly, with that much consideration. Thanks for the introspection. I’m thinking, if anything ever happened to my husband, who would be on that line? Hmmm.

  9. Melany west May 25, 2010 10:59 pm

    My mom is one of your many fans. We are visiting in san fransisco from Louisiana. All she has talked about is you and your novels. Thank you for this gift. Other than my daughter she is my everything!

  10. Altana Hamilton May 25, 2010 11:31 pm

    Dear Ms. Steele,

    My mother was had a spinal cord injury a year and a half ago. You are one of her favorite authors. She was a very active person prior to the fall. Today she reads all of your books and watches your movies. I am always looking for a book that she has not read of yours, The newest craze is searching for your movies. Thanks for helping my mother pass the time in her wheelchair. She has such a possitive attitude we have been truly blessed!

  11. Patti June 10, 2010 11:24 pm

    I just lost my mother three weeks ago. My fiance moved away and has begun a new life sans me. Recently I too had to fill out one of those forms…I’m 52.4 years old and it dawned on me that I’m an absolute nobody. I am the sole person left in my family. I have no children, nada, zip. Just picking up the pieces and moving on…thank you for the post, it’s comforting to know that even successful authors share issues we “the little guy” experience. I wish you well.

  12. Diane Goullard Parlante June 19, 2010 9:13 pm

    Bonjour Danielle, j’aimerais traduire vos livres de l’anglais au français—à moins que vous ne les écriviez vous-même en français? Dans quel cas, serait-il possible que je puisse vous être utile à faire les corrections? Que faire pour rendre ce rêve une réalité? Merci.

  13. Sarah Connell January 15, 2016 1:45 pm

    my cell phone number is 813-638-1304 please text me asap when you get this.

  14. Denice Christianson March 30, 2017 9:15 am

    I found your posting while looking for suggestions on how to handle this very issue.

    It’s even worse for those of us who have no children, no spouse, no Assistant, nor trusted friends living in the State. I was once told that I had to put “something” in the box or I would not be allowed to apply for a job.

    It’s amazing how many people in this social media frenzied life don’t realize there are some of us who, by no choice of our own, have lost or don’t have a trusted contact in case of an emergency.

  15. Pascal September 13, 2017 4:03 pm

    OMG! I was just Googling what to do when you don’t have anyone to put as your emergency contact, and I saw this blog. And then I saw who wrote it. OMG! Let me start by saying, you may feel like a loser but you are no loser, girl.

    I’m in the same boat, so to speak. Life partner died four years ago, have been dating on and off (off at the moment), no children, no parents, no siblings, closest relative is more than 1,000 miles away. It’s embarrassing to have no one to put on the emergency contact line. Not to mention depressing. Maybe there should be an emergency-contact-for-hire service that would provide someone to show up for a fee. I don’t know. But I’m absolutely positive that there are lots of women (and men) in this same situation. You’re not alone.

  16. Todd Robertson March 13, 2019 8:38 am

    I’ve been alone much of my life. My mother died when i was 18, father not around, then wife died of brain cancer 5 years ago. Have had a few girlfriends as contacts but of course they stomped on my heart and left, so that was a waste of money as I have to have a new ROAD ID bracelet printed up anytime something changes. How depressing. I have Factor V Leiden and I am very blood clot aggressive. Nearly flat lined two years ago. It’s a constant worry and I have a dog.

  17. Maureen May 25, 2019 5:51 pm

    I have no one to put as an emergency contact. It’s what I got for being the emergency contact for all of my Ill family members who have all passed on. I didn’t have time to make close friends while caring for them. Any ideas about how to put it when I ask people if I can put them down as an emergency contact?

  18. Maree June 25, 2020 3:44 am

    I know how you feel. I just lost my mum to cancer and I dont have any real friends due to working shifts and caring for mum plus my own health. My dad died a few years ago and my brother isnt a very nice person who is also an alcoholic. I am single and alone. I dont really understand why, I am not really ugly I have a nice girl next door personality and I pride myself on being honest and hard working. I also try and support others when they need it. But here I am with no real in case of emergency person. In some ways it scares me to be honest. I wish that there was a way that people like me could support each other and be an in case of emergency for each other.

    The thing is you are lucky that your kids could be your in case of emergency I know that you say you dont like the thought of them getting that call in the night but ask them I bet they would be honoured to be asked to be your in case of emergency and they would prefer to get a call than not and finding out second hand. It is good that you have such a reliable assistant I think perhaps thats what everyone needs. Take care.

  19. Querube Jaramillo January 20, 2021 9:38 am

    After 31 years of marriage I find myself in this same exact situation. While updating personnel forms for my employer I realized that I don’t have anyone I can put as my emergency contact. It’s painful. Your words are a comfort. Thank you.

  20. Mitford March 2, 2021 3:26 am

    I too have no emergency contact. I’m an “older woman” and a widow. My husband passed away a few years ago from cancer. We never had children. I’m an only child. My parents passed away a long time ago. All my aunts and uncles are deceased. I have distant cousins I haven’t seen since I was a very young child. They all live in other states, hundreds, thousands of miles away and I have lost contact with them. I don’t have their phone numbers, their addresses. I live in a rural area and my nearest neighbor is far away. So I don’t know my neighbors. I’m wheelchair bound and I don’t drive. I live alone. I am low income, disabled, and elderly so I qualify for county supported paratransit to take me to the market or doctor appointment. I have no close friends anymore. I’m very much all alone. I’ve read some people put down their local priest or minister. I’m not a church goer. Some people put down their primary doctor. But my doctor works at a low income health clinic that is closed nights and weekends and the clinic does not have any after hours on-call doctors. So if I have an emergency in the middle of the night or on a weekend, there would be no way to get a hold of my doctor. I have no idea who to put as my emergency contact. I am also concerned about who will carry out my burial wishes. I have a plot already paid for, but the cemetery and mortuary are hundreds of miles away in another state. If something should happen to me, who would make sure my remains will be interned in the proper place that I have already paid for? Being low income, I don’t have the money to hire an attorney. I do have a do-not-resuscitate document and an advanced directive, but my medical power of attorney was my husband who is now deceased. I have no idea who to select now as my medical power of attorney. Since I’m older and in poor health, I do worry about all this. If anyone reading this has any suggestions, please let me know. I can be reached at: mitford679@gmail.com. Thank you.