Monday, 12 October 2009


I took one look at the computer screen, took stock of the fact that it was an elderly person fallen at home. A Green call, the lowest priority possible. Doesn't even require lights and sirens. I muttered unthinkingly and quietly to myself. Or so I thought. "Oh Oh...", I said, for some unknown reason.
The lady who opened the door to Grace Court appeared so old that it seemed that if she was to teach history, then Ancient Rome would be her speciality, due to first-hand experience of the era.
"Yes?" Even the monosyllabic required an immense effort.
"Ambulance Service, madam. We're here for one of your neighbours."
"Do you know who?", she asked, polysyllabalism still elusive.
"Yes madam. Thank you." I smile at her question. Even at an age that would put Methuselah to shame, the sense of curiosity hadn't left her.
The building we enter is a warden-controlled residence. The residents, typically elderly, but largely self sufficient, have the benefit of an on-site manager who can be called on for some basic care and assistance, whilst also maintaining the luxury of independence that they would lose if moved to a nursing home. Most of the residents have emergency call buttons worn as pendants around their necks, so help can be summonsed at a moment's notice. Harold had decided otherwise.
It had taken a concerted effort from Harold's family to get him to agree to move here, away from the home he'd lived in for the past 50 years. Harold was a very proud man, an Army Captain who'd seen and survived so much. He still did his own shopping, cooking and cleaning. Only recently he'd agreed to allow his daughter to do his laundry. The man who had rebuffed so many advances of enemy armies, had to make this one concession to the advancing years.
His family would visit every few days, every weekend without fail, and someone would call every other day. Mondays were a quiet day, time for Harold to recover from the grandchildren running riot around his apartment. He hated to admit it, but these days they seemed to exhaust him a little quicker, tire him out for a little longer. He loved having the family visit, but he also treasured his Sunday evenings and Mondays, knowing that the phone or the doorbell wouldn't ring, and he revelled in the calm after the storm. We were called to Harold on Tuesday morning.
Harold's daughter had called him and unusually received no reply. The phone rang continuously. He hated the idea of an answer-phone, his theory of "If it's important, they'll call back" foremost in his thoughts on the matter. He did, however, unlike many of his generation, carry a mobile phone if he ever went out, but it was switched off when he was at home. "I'm currently probably at home", said the message. "If you know my phone number there, please feel free to use it. If you don't, then I probably don't know you either, so don't bother. Thank you". He must have recorded the message with the family around, as there was a great deal of merriment in the background, but no room for leaving messages here either. Sensing trouble, Harold's daughter made the 25 minute journey to visit him. When she arrived, Harold was on the floor. We arrived no more than five minutes later, despite the fact that the call was the lowest on the priority list.
Harold breathed a shallow breath every ten seconds or so, and seemed to have no pulse that we could feel, he was unconscious, but clearly still alive. Listening to his chest I could hear his rapid heartbeat, feebly trying to keep his body fuelled with the oxygen it craved. It was racing at almost 200 beats a minute. Not enough for the heart to refill and pump the blood around the body. He had no recordable blood pressure. We helped with his breathing, and thought that if we tried to move him with almost no blood pressure, we'd probably kill him. He needed more than just salty water in his veins, but it's the best we had to try to stabilise him enough to be moved. After a litre of fluid, Harold's blood pressure was at least readable. Not good, but better. His breathing had also improved a little, and he was conscious enough to mumble a few unclear words. Time being of the essence, we decided that it was best to move. Once we'd handed Harold over to the hospital team, my crewmate told me off. "Next time you think Oh Oh, will you please keep it to yourself! Bloody Jonah!" Obviously I'd not muttered quite as quietly as I'd thought.
Harold was given a blood transfusion, had surgery on his broken hip, and was kept in for several weeks to recover. I kept track of his progress as best I could, and eventually was told that he'd been discharged home. I'd long forgotten about Harold when, several months later I had a call back to Grace Court. The door was opened by a gentleman who still managed to look several years younger than his real age. He walked with no assistance, spoke clearly, knew who we were and why we were there. "I believe you're here to help Alice. She's fallen again. I've tried to make her comfortable, but I just can't get her up off the floor. Not quite as young as I used to be. Anyway, she's just over there".
We walked over to Alice, who this time had just slipped onto the floor and needed help getting up again. Whilst we were helping her, a voice behind me said: "Apparently your chaps were here helping me a few months ago. I don't remember them or indeed what happened, but if you see them, please tell them that the stubborn old fool from flat 42 is still fighting fit!"
"I'll make sure to do that, sir", I said with a grin, noting that he'd finally agreed to wear the emergency pendant.

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