Single In The ER With No Emergency Contact


Years ago, I ended up in the emergency room with an injury  at work.

The most painful experience, however, had nothing to do with the injury. It was in filling out my personal information. I had no one to list as an emergency contact.

My mother and I were estranged at the time. She lived too far away anyway, and at her advanced age, did not do well with crises. My sisters were also too far away, and my brothers would not have agreed to it.

I thought I was left with no one.

I posted in a CatholicMatch forum about it. People were sympathetic and suggested I list my priest or neighbor. I couldn’t see doing that – it would be an inconvenience for anyone listed, and I wasn’t willing to bother people with whom I had no personal involvement.

It was this idea of personal involvement that concerned me. I couldn’t understand how someone who was only a casual friend or a fellow parishioner would want to be someone’s emergency contact. I thought that was a role that should only be filled by someone really close.

To me, the emergency contact was not just someone who would answer a phone call. It was someone who knew everything about me. This person would have all the answers – my allergies, medications, prior surgeries and medical history.

This person would also know when to hold my hand,  when to ask questions, and when to have the iPod ready;  in short,  this someone would have all the information that loved ones carry around inside their hearts.

I could not name one such person.


(Wo)man’s best friend

That day at the hospital, I managed to get around the issue: I listed my dog’s name as “roommate.” Other times I simply left it blank.

But I was constantly thinking about who was missing from my life.

About a year ago, I was complaining about this with a casual boyfriend.

“What’s the big deal?” he grumbled. “List me if you want.”

And when I tried to explain what the big deal was, he didn’t agree.

I began to understand during my first marriage that a full commitment  encompasses a sense of guardianship over the beloved. Not guardianship in the sense of authority, but in the sense of caring for and feeling responsible for the beloved’s health and well-being.

In thinking about all the aspects of love, I remembered that “passion” and “patient” share the  same root word: pati, Latin for “suffering.”

This reminded me of what my mother always said: that all love leads to the cross. We cannot love without understanding Christ’s suffering.

Because of this, I understood that true love does not happen during the honeymoon stage of relationships, where infatuation and attraction are the dominant feelings. It develops through a shared experience of suffering, particularly with a Christ-centered perspective.

True love is, in effect, the total willingness to be an emergency contact.


A sober pledge

I thought about what my then-boyfriend offered so casually and why he thought it was no big deal. He insisted that no matter what happened between us – because it was becoming obvious the relationship was going nowhere – he would be willing to be my emergency contact. Initially I was flattered, but after thinking about love in this way, I knew I would never list him.

If he didn’t see the importance of being an emergency contact, he would never understand the responsibilities involved in true Christ-centered commitment.

But the bigger question for me became: Why was I waiting to get involved in that kind of commitment with just one special person? Why couldn’t I share the suffering of Christ with friends and loved ones?

In denying them the option to be an emergency contact, I’d previously thought I was saving them from hassle. I came to regard it differently, however. Now I understood that I was putting limits on the scope  and depth of the love between us.

I’d long understood the Greek words for the different types of love: agape, love of humanity; philia, love in friendship; storge, familial love; and eros, romantic love.

My mistake, it became clear, was in thinking that an emergency contact should be someone with whom I shared eros – and only eros. It is a mistake, I find, we commonly make in our search for The One.

In the end, I asked a friend with whom I already shared much suffering and heartache. We’d bonded quickly during  graduate school, meeting for study sessions and reading groups.

In our work we found similar interests, tempered by the same sense of humor. Our friendship quickly developed into a Christ-centered experience of shared suffering: my divorce and her father’s disappearance.

I thought she would be a perfect choice, and I wasn’t wrong. When I asked, she rolled her eyes, sighed and said, “Like you really need to ask. What took you so long?”

Indeed, what had taken me so long?



  1. Yvette-1099864 June 21, 2016 Reply

    I was in an accident and taken by ambulance to hospital. One of the most traumatic experiences was trying to contact various friends and taking a long time to get a hold of anyone to tell them I was in hospital. I do not live close to family. It really highlighted that I am single, and yet again having to deal with another situation on my own.

  2. Courtnie-1001878 August 30, 2013 Reply

    I always list my work and then tell the nurses that if anything happens to me tell them I won’t be in for my shift.

  3. Patrick-859779 December 16, 2012 Reply

    well writ, i am happy 4 u!

  4. Tammy-492301 August 24, 2011 Reply

    <3 So beautiful Cate. We often lose sight of the love that surrounds us.

  5. Mary-272665 August 23, 2011 Reply

    An excellent and well-thought out article. I love the way this person articulated her feelings!

  6. Paul-716327 August 22, 2011 Reply

    Great Story Catherine.
    Sometimes, I know we look too hard & the answer can be closer than we think.
    All the Best & keep smiling,
    Regards, Paul

  7. Geri-732869 August 22, 2011 Reply

    What a wonderful story with a very happy ending. God Bless you and may you stay well, and be happy.

  8. Thomas-699657 August 20, 2011 Reply

    Great thought to ponder , Jesus is always opening our eyes to things we don’t see at first look . Yet always there to show us the way , if we take the time to look for him . Thanks for reminding me and making me smile. Tommy

  9. John-588174 August 19, 2011 Reply

    I am currently in this same position. If anything happens to me I have no one in my family to call. I do however have my Directives. But it is not the same.

    • Diana-740850 August 20, 2011 Reply

      It IS difficult to be single and alone. There is a difference. I am fortunate that I have a wonderful, supportive family nearby. Because of my current situation of working full time and being a caregiver to my own mother when I come home, sometimes it is difficult for me to give of myself or my time to others. Maybe we should be the ones to start this type of ministry within our parishes. So many activities are geared to families, seniors, etc. and not so much to those who are single through choice or circumstance.

  10. Sandra-202758 August 18, 2011 Reply

    Fantastic article! It’s also important to have an emergency contact person who is familiar with our Catholic faith and our beliefs about end of life issues. Often that is not going to be a parent or a neighbor.

    • Lucy-41785 August 18, 2011 Reply

      You are correct, Sandra. I recently filled out some health care papers regarding end of life issues (just to be ahead of the game). I do have siblings who believe in and/or will respect my Catholic beliefs because of they way we were raised. I was thrilled that they had a space where I could add that in all decisions, whatever is the teaching of the Catholic Church is my first priority.

  11. Melissa-407647 August 17, 2011 Reply

    I am sorry about what happened to you, Catherine. I am also always asked about the “contact person in emergency” whenever I join courses or gain a new employment or visit a doctor. I do not have anyone. My sisters and mom all live far away from me. It takes 2.5 hours by flight from where I live. I do not feel comfortable to put any names of my friends. Even though I have some friends too. So, I will just leave it blank. However, if the person in charge insists that I have to put a name, then I will put one of my sisters’ and her overseas contact number. In a big city where most people are individualistic, it is quite difficult to find someone who really cares of other person, except our close family members. I think you are lucky to have your close friend there. Take care and God bless you.

  12. Jim-397948 August 17, 2011 Reply

    Too bad I was not there…I am very easy to start a friendship over a cup of coffee…Hope you are felling better now!!!

    • Daniel-733801 August 17, 2011 Reply

      Yes, thank you. The last surgury seems to have done the trick. Still trying to get my stamina back and get rid of a few pounds but all in good time. Thank you again, Dan

  13. Daniel-733801 August 16, 2011 Reply

    I understand completely and am in a similar situation. I have tried using my priest as an emergency contact but he has a full time job with NIH and travels with Missions to Ghana so more often times than not he is unavailable. I have been hospitalized several times and have had surgery twice and always end up alone and with one friend driving to and one neighbor picking up or just doing it myself and lying to the doctors and nurses about having a ride. This was one of the biggest reasons I signed up for CM. Now that I am in better health, I thought I might find someone so that this would never happen again. I am not so hopefull now as when I started since I started reading how it has taken years for people to meet someone. I have hate sitting in a hospital alone knowing that I am a burden to my friends and costing them time off from work. The people from my church all have families and commitments of their own and always respond with “can’t you make it a different day” as if I actually had a choice in the matter. Being ill is no fun and being alone can make it that much harder to deal with. Instead of concentrating on getting better, I’m trying to find a ride and wondering who will tell my very elderly parents (who live far away) if something doesn’t go well. Dan

    • Michael-462705 August 16, 2011 Reply

      Dan, THAT –is a very sad commentary on the people at your parish –“Can’t you make it another day?” A friend makes time for your emergency. Christians “make the time” for each other. That’s why it’s called an emergency. A lot of people GO to church. They might be “in” church but it does not mean they are “in” Christ.

  14. Michael-462705 August 16, 2011 Reply

    Catherine, you wrote: “If he didn’t see the importance of being an emergency contact, he would never understand the responsibilities involved in true Christ-centered commitment.” So, — why do we even enter these kinds of relationships and expend so much wasted time and commitment trying to make them work.” A man or woman committed to Christ will never find the ultimate joy and love they seek with a non-believer. It’s not going to happen. It’s not God’s plan. We claim to follow the Bible and yet dismiss Paul’s advice that believer’s should be “equally yoked” in Christ. This is the best hedge to secure and safeguard a marriage. Also, I wanted to say that you really should never discount your church family. Surely, people of God would step forward to help you as an emergency contact –even those you don’t know would gladly give of themselves out of love for you as a sister in Christ. Don’t sell your parish church family short. And remember, to have a friend you must be also be a friend. Become involved in one or two ministries at church and you will have more than enough friends, –close friends. You will be shocked how they will come to you at your hour of great need. If I lived near you, I would be more than happy to be listed as an emergency contact for you. Is this not what the good Samaritan did? He gave of his time, his money, his convenience and his compassion. And he was a total stranger.

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