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. 


jumblerant said...

Been there and done it. But as a policeman in that glorious city.

TomVee said...

Do call takers there not instruct callers to start CPR?