Chapter 2: Operational factors

Reactions to emergency services

The paramedic says
Nick explains family emotions and reactions to paramedics and paramedicine.(3:22)Video transcript

There’s no way to predict how people will feel or react in a health crisis or in the time around death. The patient and each family member may respond to your presence in different ways.   

The family’s coping mechanisms may be overtaxed and their reactions to this stressful situation unfiltered. Other factors may also affect their response such as:

  • The physical and emotional impacts of caregiving.

  • The nature of the health crisis.
  • Family dynamics.

  • Previous interactions with paramedics and other health professionals.
  • Cultural practice and traditions.

Try not to take negative or harsh comments personally. You’re witnessing what may well be the worst day of someone’s life, and misplaced anger and blame aren’t uncommon. When entering a home, be aware that a family may be observing cultural or religious practices. Ask how you can support them in their observances while providing care.

For more information, see Module 6, Supporting the patient and family, including chapter 2, Respecting and responding to cultural practice and traditions.

Common reactions

Families call 911 because they don’t feel equipped to deal with the health situation. To the patient and family, the arrival of the paramedics can represent:

ReliefThat professionals are engaged and helping to shoulder the burden of care and decision making.   

For a better outcome (which may be unrealistic).

Hopelessness or fear

About the severity of the situation.   

Safety or calm

In a situation that may feel out of control.

Loss of control

When professionals take charge.


To follow through on the patient's wishes (for example, being unable to keep a promise of a home death).    

Click on each item for more detail