Monday, 19 May 2014


She's wearing a long black coat, fake fur around the collar, like she's wearing a fox for a necklace. And although the sun has already set, sunglasses rest on her head; gaudy, silvery arms that hold on to giant darkened lenses. One of the lenses is shattered but still intact, as though a spider had built its web all the way across. Her handbag, with its plaited rope handle still loosely around her arm, has spilled its contents across the pavement. Lipstick, coins, old receipts and chewing gum are sprawled across the ground much like their fallen owner. 

On the outskirts of the scene, it's like trying to empty flood-waters out of a sinking ship with a teaspoon. Two police officers fight back the threatening crowd, as a third attempts to tie the blue and white tape across the only access that doesn't involve climbing a fence. Each time he ties one end, someone tears down the other. It takes the threat of a taser before the massed mob take a hesitant step back and as they do, back-up arrives, giving the police more of a chance.

We're in the middle. Surrounded on all sides of the open ground by people who could be friends or foe of our patient. They could be idle bystanders too. Some may be able to tell a story, to give us some facts, some history. But none could tell the story as well as the obvious evidence on the ground.  

We walk up to her, through the mob, through the strategically placed line of officers, through the spilled contents of her bag, through the pools of blood and golden, gleaming bullet cases, through the torrent of screams and curses and cries for us to do something. 

As the mob takes a step closer and holds its collective breath, one look tells us that the evidence - the handbag, the glasses, the bullets and blood and broken skin - is overwhelming. Even the mob knows: there is nothing more to be done. 

Sunday, 11 May 2014

The Best

As we march quickly into the resuscitation room, wading through the sea of people currently waiting for their turn in triage, one face looks directly at us. Most mumble amongst themselves, wondering what trauma had befallen our patient with his face a mangled, bloody mess, made all the more grotesque by the tube sticking out of his mouth. People stare. Human nature seems to render all those around unable to look away from the macabre scene. All except for her. Her gaze held for just long enough. Enough for me to realise that she recognised me, remembered me from some event in the past. Whether that past was recent or not was beyond me and in all honesty I was too busy with the patient we had right now. 

The chaos in the resus room was as organised as usual. Doctors waiting for a handover, nurses anxious to begin treatment, paramedics eager to deliver their patient to the next link in the chain fighting for his survival. His chances were slim - we knew that. Falling, perhaps jumping off a bridge onto the road below should have been lethal. Being hit by the car after he fell should have sealed his fate. Somehow, however, against all the odds, he was still alive when we reached him. Somewhere, the stars combined. The calls came in fast, we were nearby, the hospital was only a few minutes away. We treated him on the move, leaving us on scene for as short a time as possible. We had done our best. 

We spent some time cleaning our equipment in the resus room, keeping out of the way while trying to stay in the loop. As always, we knew that as soon as we left the department, chances were high that we would never know what happened next, so we took our time to grab more snippets of information. Anything from the results of an x-ray to the positing of a professor who happened to be in the area. Eventually, however, we had no choice but to head back out into the heat of the day, through the throng of people still hovering around the waiting room. Still, she sat there, a bandage wound round her head, with a small patch of blood showing through just above her left eye. 

Outside, by the ambulance that looked inside as though full-scale war had just taken place, we started to take stock of what we had seen and done just as one of the nurses who was in the resus room came out, cigarette in one hand and a lighter in the other. 

"They've done their best, but they've called the organ donations team," he said, as he flicked the lighter into life. I couldn't help but grimly wonder if one day he too would need a new set of lungs. 

We tidied up in silence, clearing the floor of the bags of fluids, of the empty wrappers from the kit we'd used, of the blood. The next link in the chain of survival meant that he wouldn't survive, but perhaps others would. It would be a tough call to make. They needed to find his family fast, give them the impossible task to make an impossible decision in an impossible situation - to do what's best. 

Suddenly, she stepped into the sunlight, bandage still in place with its crimson spot and walked straight over to us, stopping only very briefly. "You don't remember me, do you?" 

"No. I'm sorry, I don't." 

"I'm glad. It's probably for the best." 

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Sounds of Life

We arrive at the hospital gates
mere seconds apart.
Two ambulances with lights flashing,
Sirens trailing off as we pull up
At the kerb.

They open their doors first,
Exposing their patient to nosey bystanders.
Some look shocked.
Some smile.
Some look away.
Pretend they don't see.
Or hear.
The hiss of the oxygen,
The ping of the monitor,
The instructions of the crew,
All the Sounds of a Life
being saved.

They turn right and disappear,
and as they do,
We turn left.

Our patient is bursting with life, albeit
In pain.
She's Expectant,
Scared and excited all at once.
All of a sudden, she screams.
She screams and curses and yells and cries.
And then another noise. A sigh.
And a second cry.
All the Sounds of a Life
being born.