Ten minutes later my crew mate for the day arrived. I introduced myself and told her that I was new, and would need all the help I could get. She asked if there was anything in particular that I was nervous about, anything that I really wanted to see, that she'd see what she could arrange. I didn't really believe it, but I did mention that I'd not yet been to a cardiac arrest call. I'd practised the scenario endlessly in training school. Everyone seemed to die there. All the scenarios seemed to end in cardiac arrest.
Asthma attack scenario? Cardiac arrest.
RTA scenario? Traumatic cardiac arrest.
Pregnancy/Labour scenario? Double cardiac arrest.
Drug overdose scenario? Self inflicted cardiac arrest.
And the scenarios would always be as difficult and unlikely as possible. "Worst Case Scenario" the trainers would call it. We all took it with a pinch of salt, they were just so far-fetched.
In a broken down lift.
A crane at full height.
Stuck behind a toilet.
In the middle of a muddy building site.
On and on it went. Weeks of "people dying". If that was the real world, I wasn't so sure I was ready for it. The real world, however, was anything but constant cardiac arrest calls. Six weeks on the road, and I hadn't seen it or had to deal with it once. So I told Anne about it. She laughed and told me that the chances were slim. It was a day shift, and people tended to die at night.
Those were the days before we had computer dispatch on the ambulances. The calls would come off a printer, and the Control Room would call the station to find out who was to be the next crew out. I can still hear the distinctive whirr of that printer and find that if I ever hear it anywhere else, I instinctively expect to hear a phone ring.
We'd been out on a couple of calls and had managed to get back to station. There was nothing to challenge my knowledge yet. But now, we were the next crew out. I sat anxiously waiting for something to happen. Eventually, the blue piece of paper appeared at the top of the printer, and the phone made me jump half out my skin. This was it. My turn. And for some reason I had butterflies in my stomach. I looked at the piece of paper and saw that we were on our way to a man in his 40s with difficulty breathing. In the special instructions section there was a line about the patient being in a "hard hat" area on a building site. Could be interesting.
Half way there, we get a call on the radio: "ETA request from the scene. Patient deteriorating".
"We're approx 5 minutes away."
"Thanks, we'll let them know."
Anne presses the accelerator a little closer to the floor, the engine screams in response, but the ambulance doesn't seem to move any quicker. Two minutes later, the radio operator calls over the noise of the engine. "Update from the scene. They're on the 3rd floor of a building site. Stairs still unsafe. Ladders in use. Patient turning blue." Leave the important bit until last, why don't you?
"ETA two minutes. Thanks."
Accelerating makes no difference other than the noise, so we will the ambulance to go a little faster.
As we're no more than half a mile away, the radio chirps in once more. "Patient now in cardiac arrest!" I expected panic to set in, for the shakes to take over, for my brain to freeze. None of that happened. It was as if I'd been programmed for just this moment. The adrenaline rush was incredible. In my head I'd made a detailed list of what equipment to take, how we'd get to the patient, how we'd get him down again, and what else needed doing. All this before I'd even got out of the ambulance.
We arrived to find that our patient, had been carried down one floor by the other builders. Now at least we only had stairs to contend with, and no ladders. Two of the builders had started CPR whilst the others looked on anxiously. Anne and I took over and with the oxygen we were giving him his colour started to improve. The defibrillator looked at the chaotic heart rhythm and decided that it needed to be shocked back to life. Shocks, CPR, Shocks, CPR. We were in hard hats, covered up to our knees in mud, on the second floor of a building site, surrounded by exposed beams and electrical cables, with a 100kg patient. A real "worst case scenario".
Moving him to the ambulance was much easier than expected, thanks to several pairs of builders hands helping us carry him. The ambulance visibly sank by several inches and audibly groaned its complaint as the group of 4 ambulance staff, 6 builders and one patient either climbed in or were loaded into the back.
We continued our attempts all the way to hospital where the staff took over. They knew Anne and the other crew, but I was a new face. I overheard one of them ask Anne who the "new guy" was.
"Oh" she said. "He's a bit like this job. Come straight out of Training School."