Wednesday, 30 March 2011


Flying east, as the sun turns to set, the plane hastens the arrival of night and is soon surrounded by darkness. A bright light flashes every few seconds on the wing, repeatedly, momentarily painting it red. 

Spotlights come on throughout the cabin, illuminating random faces, each with a different expression, no two faces or thoughts the same.

A couple discuss their holiday as they try to settle their infant child. Many are lost in a world of their own, watching a movie, reading a book, trying to sleep. 

The air crew hand out drinks and a meal and are kept constantly occupied, driven to distraction by their captive audience. Customer service of the most intense kind, neither consumer nor provider with room, should they need it, to run and hide. 

Half way to landing, two university friends chuckle and guffaw as they reminisce on their fortnight of fun and frolics. 

"At least we avoided hospital this time!"

"You remember that? It was hysterical! The girl in the ambulance couldn't keep a straight face!"

I try to listen in a little bit closer, hoping to hear what had led my unknown colleague to lose her composure, but they told no more of the mystery event, turning after hysterical laughter to more mundane conversation. 

"You back at uni tomorrow then?" 

"'Fraid so. Straight back down to earth with a bump." 

Not exactly the words I wanted to hear at thirty thousand feet. 

Serves me right for eavesdropping. 

Sunday, 27 March 2011


Cue: blowing my own trumpet. (I hope that translates in the USofA the same as it means in the UK...)

Despite having done no exercise for years, and then picking up an injury, I did it. 

I ran, walked, and sometimes practically crawled a half-marathon. It took me longer to finish than the winner of the full marathon, but I don't care. Just over two months ago I needed a challenge, found one, took it on, and completed it. During the journey towards and during the challenge, I made the following notes. 

You MUST prepare properly. 
I didn't. 

You MUST be realistic. 
I wasn't. 

You MUST NOT pick up an injury four days before running a half-marathon, and then still run it. 
I did. Both.

You MUST be completely nuts to want to do something like this. 
I am. 

You DAMN WELL WILL finish it, even if it nearly kills you. 
It did, and I did. 

The person who designed the course clearly had a sadistic side to them leaving a monstrous hill to climb for the last couple of miles. This was, however, then followed by an equally steep, but somewhat shorter downhill where my legs felt as though they belonged to somebody else. My injury screamed most of the way round the spectacular course, and my lungs kept threatening to give up and go home. I repeatedly thought back to the start, where another runner took a photo of me. He was running the same race, but on one prosthetic leg. My "bravery" suddenly paled into insignificance and drove me forwards. 

As I ran past each strategically stationed ambulance and first-aid post on the route, I became ever more determined to ignore their inviting offer of rescue. All along the route families, people I have never met and will never meet again, shouted, sang and cheered their support. Even for the stragglers like me (and, surprisingly several hundred behind!). 

I know, I know. It was only a half-marathon. All of twenty-one kilometres, or thirteen miles if you prefer. Twenty minutes in a car, I mean, how far can it really be? Some people have to travel further just to get basic groceries! But to me, it was a lot more than that. It was inescapable proof. 

Proof that I can achieve things that I once thought impossible. 

Proof that I can now take on challenges that up until now I would never have even considered. 

Proof - definite, undeniable proof - that many things that I had believed about myself until now can be well and truly defenestrated. (Thanks AC et al)

Who knows where this realisation will take me now?

Over at RRD's blog, he's planning on a 10k run along with some other BASICS colleagues to raise funds for their vital organisation. I may go and cheer from the sidelines. In fact, in hindsight, 10k is where I should have started too, but it's a little late now. 

Whilst he's doing that, I think the most improbable thought. A thought so frightening that I'm not sure what to do about it. What do I think? 

I think I want to do it all again. Except that next time, I'll be ready.

Told you I was nuts. 

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Time off?

I've taken some time off work, and away from the blog in order to visit some family overseas, and whilst I'm there, run my first ever half-marathon.

The run's tomorrow.

If you haven't heard anything from me by this time next week, start to worry.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Surround Sound Parenting

Ages ago, I was called to a house where the patient was one third of a tiny set of triplets. Luckily, my kids all came one at a time, and even that was hard work, so I'm constantly filled with awe and admiration for people who manage twins, triplets and sometimes more. 

There were twins in my class at school, identical twins. In all the years I was there, I never managed to tell them apart and, slightly embarrassingly, I always called them by their surname, thereby reducing the risk of getting their names wrong. They both studied the same subjects, were in the same classes, took the same exams, and eventually even followed the same career path. To this day, if I ever bump into either one or the other, I still have no idea which one I'm talking to. 

One of my biggest fears when my kids were born was not recognizing them. If I walked into a nursery full of day old babies, would I know which one was mine? I liked to hope that I would, but luckily was never put to the test. So imagine having identical twin babies. How do you tell the difference? I think I'd have absolutely no hope. Fairly recently, I've started reading a blog about living life with identical twins in the house, which gives a fantastic glimpse into the chaos and confusion, frustrations and fun of watching them grow up, and hopefully not getting them confused... 

Definitely worth a read, if only for the brilliant name of the blog. 

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Break Up

The car looked as if it had been hit by a tank.

A massive dent in the passenger door.

Every single window smashed.

The boot flipped open.

The hood and the roof scraped.

One of the tyres a hundred yards down the road.

And the driver stood laughing by the side of his car.

The passenger side, the one with the worst damage.

"What are you laughing at?"

"My ex-girlfriend!"

"What has she done that's made you laugh?"

"Broke up with me."

"And that made you laugh? You don't look too broken up!"

"Well, up until ten minutes ago she was my girlfriend. When she broke up with me, parked up outside her house, I threw her out my car. If we'd still have been together, she'd be dead."

Reality suddenly struck and he broke down in tears.

"I've never been so pleased to break up with anyone before."

Tuesday, 15 March 2011


We're both going to be left with scars, but mine seem unfair. Unfair to you, not to me. I don't have the right to feel this way, to feel the anger, the frustration, the sadness and injustice of it all. After all, he wasn't my child.

My children were safely at home, sharing popcorn and a movie with friends.

Your child was being roughly manhandled by ambulance crews desperately trying and miserably failing to save his life.

We must have seemed so cold to you, so callous, calculated, so damned professional. Sticking tubes down his throat, needles in his scrawny arms, pounding on his delicate, fragile chest. But we're human too. 

At the hospital, after we'd walked back out of your lives, we shed a tear, shared a tear. Some of us outwardly, some torn from the inside out, some showing a passive face, hiding the emotion that was battling to break through the dam. 

As we worked to save his life, nothing else mattered. But afterwards, there are questions, doubts, replays of every single thing that happened go through my mind. Could we have done something differently? Could we have worked faster, better, harder? Would it have made a difference? 

The team at the hospital told us that we did everything that we could. They came out to the ambulance to find a saloon full of sombre faces in green uniforms. They said what they said, and left to go back to talk to you, a conversation so much worse. I know we did all we could. I know that we couldn't have done anything better. I know that nothing we could have done would have saved his life. I don't expect you to feel the same. 

It's never right for a child to die. Not through illness or trauma, neither by accident nor malice. You know that better than I, as you sit and try to come to terms with a tragedy so deep that the scars will never entirely fade, whilst I go home and hold my children closer. 

At home, I tried to leave your child behind. "Just another day at the office," I'd tell myself. I failed at that too. 

Instead, I sat and cried as I polished my boots clean of all the scars of that call, feeling guilty that I'm erasing any physical memory I have of your son. 

I know that you can't erase the memory. Won't erase it. All I can hope is that the memories that linger aren't the ones I have, of a lifeless child, bereft of hope. I can only pray that the memories you keep are the good ones, the happy times, the playful child full of life.

And that in time, your scars heal, if only a little. 

Thursday, 10 March 2011


"Education is the best provision for the journey to old age." - Aristotle.

Those of you who follow my Twitterings, would have seen that yesterday I was rambling about going to speak to a group of kids, and how nervous I was. Needlessly so, I must add. I shouldn't have a problem talking to kids. I used to be one, I have several of my own, and MrsInsomniac would declare wholeheartedly that I still behave like one. So what made me nervous? Two things.

First - I knew there were going to be adults in the room. Speaking to a roomful of kids is a doddle. They say what they think, ask questions if they don't know, and will always let you know if you're boring them. However, put me in front of a roomful of adults, ask me to give a talk on any given subject, and I fall to pieces.

Secondly - I was going to tell these kids all about the hows, whys and wherefores of the ambulance service.

Now that's something to be nervous about. I've done this sort of thing a couple of times before and found one thing is certain. Whatever you plan will go straight out the window. Go with the basics prepared in your head, and then just flow with whatever happens thereafter.

So I went to work, brought back dozens of items that we use on a daily basis, and laid them out on a table for them all to see.

There were masks, splints, collars, bandages, hi-vis coats, bags, extrication devices, even cannulas. Packaged of course. I had one aim in mind, and didn't really care how we got there. My aim was to ensure that by the end of the session, these kids would know when to call us and what we do, and that there's nothing to be scared of when the green-dressed strangers walk in to their lives.

After a brief introduction, I relinquished (some might say lost) control and let the kids take over, which was fine by me. They wanted to tell stories of when they'd been in an ambulance, they wanted to show that they knew what some of the pieces of kit were for, they wanted to play with the bits that they'd never seen. Not one of them shied away. Even the cannulas didn't scare them off. OK, so I cheated when they asked me why they were different colours and I told them it was pink for girls, blue for boys, and the other ones for adults according to what they were wearing, but then quickly told them the truth.

They were curious, they were interested, they were excited, and not one bit scared.

Part one of my aim successfully achieved.

Part two I thought was going to be somewhat more difficult. When to call us. As they sat in a circle on the floor, I decided it would be easier if they told me when they thought you should or shouldn't call for an ambulance. One child would tell me a good reason to call, the next would tell me a good reason not to.

"A broken leg." Good call.

"A splinter." They all laughed and agreed that was a bad call.

"If you see a car crash!" 

"If you stub your toe." They all laughed again. 

"If someone falls down the stairs and hurts themselves."

"If you fall over and graze your knee."

"If you can't breathe properly."

"If you're hungry!"

"If someone's having a pain in their chest." I thought that was particularly astute for an eight-year-old.

"When you get a paper cut!"

"If someone is bleeding a lot."

"Prank calls." I concentrated on this one a little longer.

On and on we went, until the every child in the circle had had their say. And as I listened to their answers, I was struck by the fact that all the suggestions they had given for when would not be an appropriate time to call an ambulance were situations that I had come across. I'd been called for a paper cut, for someone wanting breakfast, for a stubbed toe and even a grazed knee. It would seem that these kids had a better idea than some adults that I've met over the years.

I wish I could do more of these sessions. Teach the young ones about what we do, when we do it, what we're really there for. Show them the things they may come across if they call us. If the first time you see a collar is after you've just been knocked off your bike, you're bound to be a little more traumatised than if you'd seen one in a classroom, had the chance to play with it, even try it on some time earlier. Maybe, a few years down the line, it would also make the difference between calls waiting for ambulances, and ambulances waiting for calls.

The next generation might have an awful lot to learn, and we can try to hand them these provisions for the future, but it might be worth remembering that all too often they have just as much to teach.

Monday, 7 March 2011

A Sister's Pain

I search for the right words, the strangled words that will express my pain, but they won't come. Nothing is enough to express the anger I feel, the disappointment, the insult and the sadness that now engulfs me. I'm the sister of that thirteen year old, the one who you hit last year.

An accident. That's the technical term, but I refuse to accept it. In the middle of that dreaded afternoon you drove drunk, mounted the pavement on which she stood waiting for the green light that would allow her to cross safely. And you hit her, your impaired judgement showing no mercy. 

She lay in hospital for a week hanging by a thread between life and death, and another month in a coma. That whole time the doctors repeatedly told us that there was no hope.

She wouldn't live.

She wouldn't wake up.

She wouldn't recover.  

Funeral arrangements were prepared, and discussions about organ donation were started.

Then, in defiance, she started to breathe on her own.

This whole time since, she hasn't spoken once. She hasn't stood on her own two feet. She hasn't laughed. I keep waiting. I stand and watch her, and I pray for that one sign that she's coming back to me. But no one can tell me that it's going to happen.

As you stood in court, the judge delivered the verdict. The judge spoke of an accident with devastating consequences, told of your extenuating circumstances, and how difficult your life had become since you hit her.

And for all of that, all that devastation, you got nothing.

A fine and a suspended driver's licence.

Someone who drives whilst talking on the phone gets a fine.

Someone who breaks the speed limit gets a fine. If they do it twice, maybe thrice, they might lose their licence too.

You, you who took my sister's life away and destroyed her future and her family, you get to walk away and live your life as if nothing ever happened.

I wonder if you even gave her a second thought, or if you only ever thought of yourself.

I don't care if you admitted your guilt in court, saving your own skin and supposedly precious time.

Time is something I have plenty of. Over a year of her life has already been taken away. I can wait a little while longer for justice. But it doesn't seem forthcoming.

My heart, already broken, has been ripped out of me and stamped on. My baby sister, my parents' child, is no more than another statistic, another number in the eyes of the courts, and to you she means nothing at all. But to me she's my fun-loving, animal-friendly, bad-taste-in-music, drives-me-crazy sister, and I want her back, body and soul intact.

So whilst you walk the streets in peace, drinking away the days until you can drive again, she lives in a state of constant war. She fights for the tiniest movement, the smallest glimmer of hope, the simplest of signs to show that she's still with us, that she knows us, that she wants to keep up the fight.

As you walk back to your own life, I'll be here fighting her battles with her.

The translation and some literary license is mine. The story, however, isn't.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

The Warden

His carer found him, called for the ambulance, and left almost as soon as we arrived.

"I have other clients I must go see. I called the office before I called you, and my boss has told me to leave as soon as you get here and not waste any more time!"

"Hang on a minute!"

"Sorry. Must go. His name's Steve."

And that was it. Left without another word.

Steve sat in his chair, motionless and blue, his mouth gaped open in that rigid 'O' shaped tell-tale sign. Hours must have passed since he had taken his final breath.

Up until that point, I'd barely had the chance to take a look around. A call given as cardiac arrest means arriving fast and carrying bags full of kit. Now I had time to stop and look properly at the last place Steve saw alive. His very own home.

The flat was filthy.

Carpets sticky from years of neglect, walls covered in grime, the kitchen stacked high with dirty dishes and discarded food. There wasn't even a bin in there. Every surface, floor and sink were just covered in the remainders of half-eaten meals and unwanted scraps.

The police had to be informed, and whilst I waited, I had a walk around the flat, trying to find some details that would tell me a little of Steve's history. A carer's folder told me that he'd been looked after for at least two years by the same people. It seemed as though, despite the fact they were called carers, they couldn't really have cared any less.

An unused oxygen tank, the pronged tubing that should have been in his nose easing his final breaths was lying in the bedroom disconnected from its supply.

A bath filled with bags of old, probably unwashed clothes.

A toilet uncleaned for so long that it could only have been held
together by the dirt it housed.

Bags of used incontinence pads that filled the flat with the smell of amonia sat piled high by the door.

Signs of neglect everywhere I turned, and this was a man supposedly cared for.

A single photograph of a group of air-raid wardens, the bright white 'W' at odds with the blackouts they used to enforce. I presumed Steve was amongst the group, although unrecognisable now. They stood proud in that picture, facing adversity in the toughest of times, yet defying the odds and serving the masses.

All those years spent caring for other people, only to be let down by his very own carers.

I could, of course, fill in the forms. Mark him as vulnerable, and all those others who this so-called disappearing carer's employers also look after, but there was no point. The form would go nowhere. The managers might get a telling off, and for Steve, it would be completely in vain. As it was, he was probably better off now.

Steve wasn't vulnerable any more.

Now at last he was safe.


Yet another milestone for the blog - its second birthday.

Or blogaversary if you prefer.

Thanks yet again for sticking with an insomniac and his ramblings!

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Writer's Block

There are about half a dozen unfinished posts in the drafts folder, and I can't finish any of them. I'm not sure I'm enough of an author to really call it writer's block, but it's definitely some sort of block. Dozens of ideas are scribbled in tiny notes at the back of my diary, hieroglyphics decipherable only to skilled Egyptologists and myself, and all are waiting to be converted into normalspeak. For some reason, this week I just can't seem to do it.

There are tragedies, traumas, and tears, there are even some simple smiles. Yet, at the moment, I can't bring any of them to life. So in an effort to break the block, I thought I'd write about it. Some posts take me minutes to compose, some take days, even weeks from when I start them until they see the light of day.

Some deal with unspeakable horrors, with the volume turned down, some are simple stories glammed up for effect, but all have one thing in common. They're all about my brief encounters with people, how these people affect me, how their lives affect me, and once in a while, I hope, how I affect their lives too.

I'm selfish really. I write this blog, first and foremost, for me. It's a record of things I've seen and done, an outlet for frustrations, and an inlet for support from my readers. At the same time, however, I want to let you, the reader, into a world hidden from general view. And to do that, I try to involve you in this world, to make you feel a part of it, hopefully make it seem like you can see the sights, hear the sounds, sense the emotions.

Sometimes I can do it. Sometimes, like this week, the hieroglyphics at the back of the diary remain a mystery, even to me.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011


Quick question for you, once you've read this article.

Which one really needs redesigning?

The A&E departments, or the behaviour of those who attend them?