Wednesday, 12 August 2015


The complex of buildings appears to have been built some time between when asbestos was the latest in safety and avocado green was the height of chic. An impossible maze of apartments, dotted around hidden, narrow side streets all with the same name, or no name, and a numbering system that bears no resemblance to today's recognised linear system. Buildings numbered in the hundreds sit in between buildings number four and six. The GPS always gives up and leaves us with either local knowledge or none. 

We call dispatch, ask them to link us up with the caller with a hope that they can give us directions. It seems like a simple call - a faint - but my gut tells me otherwise. The voice that comes on the other end of the phone is calm, so perhaps my gut is wrong. She gives us exact directions - to a completely different street - and tells us that someone will meet us outside. 

I see them running down the stairs as we enter the dead-end street, three pairs of legs rushing full pelt, one of them skipping the last few steps and landing in a heap at the bottom of the staircase. He gets up and continues rushing towards us, pulling open the door of the ambulance before we've even stopped. One of them is screaming about the fact that it took us so long to get there, all the while blocking me from leaving the ambulance. It's tough not to judge a person in their time of crisis, but this was only making his crisis worse, not better. 

"She's stopped breathing! She won't talk! What are you waiting for?!"

If what he's telling me is true, there is no time for niceties, so I shout back. "You to get out of my way!" 

It seems to snap him back into reality and he takes a step aside, lets me out and bursts into tears. 

Nothing seems to work in the building; the lift is out of order, the hallway lights don't work. The only light in the flight of stairs is that from their open door on the first floor. There's a conflict of unwritten laws in play: the first - seriously ill patients are never on the first floor; the second - if the lift's broken, the patient will be seriously ill. This time, the second rule was stronger. 

As we enter the apartment, we see her sitting by the table, her head slumped awkwardly like it does only in patients who are dying or dead. We move her to the floor, and with little need for words start the attempts to save a life. One person starts compressions, pushing hard on fast on the chest, mimicking the actions of the heart at ten times the effort with less than a third of the effect. I start the ventilations, two breaths for every thirty compressions, finding it easier to conduct the orchestra from the patient's head. Other actions happen all around - a monitor is attached, an IV line is placed ready to give adrenaline. The hands pumping the chest change, allowing time to recover. In between, I look at the monitor. There is no rhythm to shock, but there is a rhythm. A check of the pulse reveals none, and the orchestra continues. Another two minutes, a dose of adrenaline, hands relentlessly pump the heart. 

And a family waits.

The hands change once more and in those few seconds the rhythm does too. A pause, a check for a pulse, feeling for a flicker of hope. 

The miracle occurs. The pulse is strong, fast, effective. It remains so all the way to hospital. 

I have no idea what happened after that. But I saw the family walking around the hospital the following day with cautious smiles on their faces. 

I didn't dare to ask, but I can only hope. 

Monday, 20 July 2015

Back On The Road

My last post on here, some nine months ago, reads now as both a warning and a reminder. I was
warning myself, not aware enough at the time that the elephant in the room that I'm ignoring was precisely the thing that should have been uppermost on my mind. It took a couple more months and one critical incident to finally make me heed that warning. Although when I did, it was through necessity, not choice.

The fog floated across the highway, a surprise, unwelcome visitor on what had begun as a clear winter's morning. We were heading back to the station after the first call of the day, a patient with the body of the ninety year old she was, but a mind still that of a teenager. She spent the entire journey to hospital warning us never to get old, because "Your legs will want to dance, but you brain will tell them they can't even stand." We were still discussing her presence of mind and praying for the same level of sanity at that age, when our thoughts were shattered by a call from the control room.

"Find the first place you can to turn around and head in the opposite direction. Calls coming in of a serious incident. Details to follow as soon as we have them."

It was, in theory, nothing unusual. We're used to calls coming in and being told that someone had fallen from height, only to find that the height involved was the pavement. Or the call to a pedestrian hit by a car that turns out to be little more than a glancing blow at zero speed. Or even the unconscious patient who just happens to be walking around when we arrive. Something in the dispatcher's voice said otherwise. Something in the air on that highway turned decidedly cold as we travelled to an unknown serious call.

The last orange flames were being put out as we arrived at the scene.

All around were rivers of firefighting foam as plumes of smoke climbed into the air, the last signs of the now extinguished fire. Wreckage covered an area the size of a tennis court, an area that up until a few minutes earlier had been a holding area for enthusiasts waiting their turn to take to the skies. The marks of the tiny aircraft were clearly visible as one wing seemed to be the only part unclaimed by the fury of the inferno. One firefighter, stepping back out of the way now that his job was done, motioned to us that it was now safe to approach.

It took some time, but eventually we identified the victims. There was very little by which to be sure. At first it was uncertain how many there were. The human form had been disfigured beyond recognition, first by impact, then by fire, as the microlight lost control and hit the tarmac, cruelly ending their lives in an instant. 

The rest of the shift passed by in a blur. The images, too raw to process, remained locked away for the next few hours, even for days and weeks, and then broke out all at once without any warning. Since then I have learned a great deal about PTSD, about not hiding from it, about coping with it, about getting back to work, and most of all – about me.

I have learned that, unlike my thoughts on the previous post, it isn't just me. That there are plenty of others who struggle, some less so but some much, much more, and all that they required to start on the road to understanding and acceptance was a voice that would proclaim loudly – I'm here with you.

This is why this blog is back. I'm honoured to have you as readers, but first and foremost the writing has always been for me. It has taken me a while to realise that, but I'm back. If you're here to come along for the ride, to join me on this journey through a world hidden from most, then you're more than welcome back on the road, as always.