Cheryl used to work in an emergency room (ER). It was often hard to get an accurate medical history from the patient or family members in the middle of a crisis.

Then Cheryl herself was hit by an underinsured driver in an automobile accident that she describes as "horrific," with good reason: "Only my left arm and hand weren't damaged or broken. Everything else about my body was damaged in some way."

She had more than a dozen operations, and spent the next year in the hospital.

Extreme damage to multiple parts of her body landed her permanently in a wheelchair.

She wrote, "I have had many medical challenges. I now carry a detailed medical history and medicine list with me at all times."

What does she include? "I make a list of operations and problems. I then write about each if there were any problems or things unusual with a procedure.

I do the same with the medications." She also includes a simple summary of this information.

Cheryl's list has separate sections for prescription and over-the-counter medicines that she takes daily, and for others that she takes only as needed. She also lists supplements. She includes a history of drugs previously prescribed, whether they helped or not, and any side effects she experienced.

"I also include all doctor names, addresses and phone numbers. When I have to see a new doctor, they just scan in the information. They go back and read the details when they have time, or right then if it is needed. All seem very happy for this help."

Because of the volume and devastating nature of her injuries, Cheryl reported, "I now carry a disk with X-rays." In Arizona, healthcare providers can destroy records six years after they last saw the patient. If Cheryl hadn't promptly requested copies of the X-rays, they often would not have been available when she needed them later.

The benefits? Cheryl noted, "New doctors have a lot to compare to this way and can see what treatments caused problems and know not to do that again. New doctors would want to drop some of my medications until they read the medication history and saw why they shouldn't. It was time-consuming when I first wrote out my medication history. But there is no one else who can give this information."

At one point, a nurse providing home healthcare asked a lot of questions to understand some of her problems better. He read her history, then recommended adding a speech therapist to help her. "The speech therapist said because the history was so complete she had a good understanding of what was going on in my brain. This cut out a lot of questions and a lot of testing."

Besides keeping a copy of her comprehensive medical record in her van, Cheryl said, "I sent a copy to my son and I also keep this information by my bed and as much as possible in the life-line packet on the refrigerator."

Cheryl is referring to the red, magnetized File of Life pouch available free from the front information desk at either campus of Yavapai Regional Medical Center. Paramedics know to check the refrigerator door to see if people have put this pouch with medical information there. Groups interested in having a YRMC volunteer come explain and hand out free File of Life pouches to their members may call Roxanne Hull, community outreach coordinator, at 771-5738.

After hearing from Cheryl, I expanded my summarized medical record to added sections at the front listing current medications and supplements, medicines to which I've had a bad reaction, current diagnoses, a vaccination history, surgeries and hospitalizations, and highlights of my family medical history. My own medical history follows, taking about a page a decade.

I had been keeping these records on a computer, updating them and printing them out for every new doctor. However, realizing that no one else would be able to find them on my computer in an emergency, I have now put a copy in my car, in my husband's car, and in my purse. And I put completed File of Life pouches on the refrigerator.