I knew it was going to be a suspended the second the operator connected the call. Whilst a hysterical caller does not always (or even usually) mean a serious call, these weren’t the usual panicking screams but howls of sheer terror. I wondered if it was going to be something gruesome; it was almost a relief went she told me that the patient was her elderly grandmother, who was “not waking up”.

“Hurry up!” she sobbed, again and again, oblivious of the fact that she hadn’t even given me an address to send to. It’s usually one of the most frustrating things on earth to be told to hurry when you are waiting for a response from the caller, but I could hardly feel annoyed in the circumstances. I managed to coax the address out of her (thankfully, just down the road from Callsville Ambulance Station) and confirm what I’d already guessed — that the patient was not breathing. This flagged the call as a Red 1, and already two ambulances and an FRU were on their way. Now, for the hard bit — giving CPR instruction to someone who is barely together enough to remember where she was.

“Did you see what happened?” is the next question. This helps us determine whether it’s going to be a ‘working job’ or a ‘purple plus’ and therefore how much we should try to coax a reluctant caller into giving CPR. This caller, unfortunately, did not see what happened — she’d just come to visit, she sobbed, and found her grandmother in the bed. Not a good sign — she could have been there for hours. But there was still a remote chance, so I ploughed on with the “get the patient on her back, check the airway, check for breathing…” instructions. It took a little while because the caller was sobbing so much, but she was doing as she was told — she wanted to do everything she could to save her grandmother. Not breathing confirmed, I moved on to the CPR instructions.

“I’m going to tell you how to do resuscitation,” I began. “Put the heel of your hand…”

“No!” sobbed the caller, who had been totally compliant until now. “I can’t, I can’t, just send the ambulance!”

This was a setback.

“Yes, you can — I can tell you how. We need to do this to give her the best chance,” I said, which is my usual coaxing patter.

“No,” she said, “I can’t“, and this time I understood that she didn’t mean I can’t, I’m too scared, I don’t know how but I can’t, it’s too late, she’s already dead. I didn’t mention the CPR again, but stayed on the line with her anyway, even though I had nothing left to say or do other than ooze meaningless placitudes like “help will be with you soon,” and “you did very well, you did everything you could”. Now the urgency was over, I became aware of a background noise that I’d been blotting out. There was a small child crying in the background.

“Is that a child with you?” I asked.

“Yes… my little brother,” she told me. The boy was wailing inconsolably and shouting “Granny!” and the caller’s name. He sounded about five. It occurred to me at that point that to have a brother that young, my caller was most likely not an adult yet herself.

“Okay, let’s get him out of there,” I said. “Both of you leave the front door open and go and stand outside and wait for the ambulance. Give your little brother a hug and look after him.” They both sounded terrified; I figured they needed each other.

I didn’t say anything else, but I heard the girl explaining that because she couldn’t wake grandma up she thought she was gone (not ‘dead’, never ‘dead’). The little boy howled that he didn’t want grandma to go, and the girl said that she didn’t either, and then they both cried again. Then, a familiar sound, nee naw nee naw nee naw — it was the FRU arriving. The girl snatched up the phone and thanked me about ten times before going to greet it. I wasn’t sure what she was thanking me for; in retrospect, I think it was the fact that I’d got an ambulance there so that she didn’t have to be the responsible adult any more.

Published Jul 20, 2007 - 26 Comments and counting

26 Comments on “A Sad Suspended”
  1. Katherine Says:

    Hell of a post, Mark.

  2. Mark Myers Says:

    Thanks! By the way, I absolutely loved your book! Can’t wait for the next one!

  3. Faith Says:

    Oh my goodness,

    This was one of the saddest posts i’ve ever read.

    Good job.

    Faith.

  4. chairwoman Says:

    Great sympathy for the young girl.

    My grandfather lived with us when I was a girl, and I was always frightened that I’d ‘find’ him. If I didn’t hear him in the morning, I would persuade my father to check him out. Eventually, when he died, he was 98 and in hospital, and I was married and living.

    Those kids will be traumatised for weeks, poor things, and I think the girl was very brave.

  5. EmT Vessel Says:

    Well done, Mark
    That was a difficult one.
    And made for emtional reading.
    I swar that the mroe years i spend in the service the softer i become.
    I btbinkthe public expect it the other way around.
    Not in my case.
    Keep up the good work!

  6. EmT Vessel Says:

    *apologies for appalling typos*

  7. Nee Naw at somefoolwitha.com Says:

    [...] No doubt I’ve mentioned these before; Nee Naw – Blog of a Dispatcher in the London Ambulance Service’s Control Room is always a good, no less so than today’s post I knew it was going to be a suspended the second the operator connected the call. Whilst a hysterical caller does not always (or even usually) mean a serious call, these weren’t the usual panicking screams but howls of sheer terror. I wondered if it was going to be something gruesome; it was almost a relief went she told me that the patient was her elderly grandmother, who was “not waking up”. # [...]

  8. Jo Says:

    Wow.
    What a powerful post.
    I hope that the girl and her brother are ok.

  9. Claire Says:

    Great post. I was welling up but I was at work and had to pull myself together!

    Just read this – http://www.thisislocallondon.co.uk/news/topstories/display.var.1555770.0.999_services_in_postcode_squabble_after_crash.php.

    As a long time reader of yours I am sure it is rubbish but I thought you might like to know/ respond.

  10. Mark Myers Says:

    Yeah, that sounds like a load of rubbish. It’s true we can’t send help without a postcode but that’s because the computer needs one to generate a map reference. Nothing to do with boroughs and boundaries! If they were called back after ten minutes with someone asking for a postcode, it sounds to me rather like they gave the wrong post code the first time, meaning the ambulance went to the wrong place…

  11. KJX Says:

    It might be the hormones, but I’m sat here snivelling like a loon. I couldn’t do your job. That poor girl – and well done you – they weren’t meaningless platitudes, you wouldn’t have put them on here if you hadn’t meant them.

  12. Mark Myers Says:

    They feel pretty meaningless – help is coming and she’s doing all she can but a dead grandma is still a dead grandma. Sometimes you can’t make things better, though, especially when you don’t even know the person and they’re the other end of a telephone line.

  13. Mary Says:

    Oh no. Reading that is making me well up.

  14. Hazel Says:

    Oh that is so sad. I feel so sorry for the girl and her brother.

  15. zdmaster2k Says:

    The girl was thanking you for being there for her Mark, not because you got her a motor. Well done buddy

  16. laputain Says:

    help *was* on its way. Perhaps not for her Grandma, but help was certainly coming.

  17. Two’s Company « Diagnosis? N.F.I. Says:

    [...] Excellent, another three pairs of hands. And Nee Naw confirms the LAS practice in A Sad Suspended… This flagged the call as a Red 1, and already two ambulances and an FRU were on their way. [...]

  18. Supermouse Says:

    I agree with laputain and will add that help was there on the phone too. Poor kid.

  19. Dave H Says:

    I just got home from work, boiling with stress and anger after a monstrously taxing day on the phone. As always, thanks for putting things into perspective. I’ll be able to go back tomorrow now.

  20. Steve Says:

    One of the best written blog postings I’ve read. Well done mate. A lot of us “road staff” often moan about the people up in control not understanding what we have to do and the amount of crap we deal with but your blog is great reminder just how much we and the public depend on you.

  21. T9T Says:

    Reminds me of one a few weeks back…

    A hanging, in the middle of nowhere… 3 kids, all under 7 on scene…

  22. Arwen Says:

    *sniffle*

  23. 999slave Says:

    thats really sad. poor girl

    i know what you mean by feeling meaningless. sometimes you find yourself talking to these complete strangers and thinking ‘this is probably going to go down in your books as one of the saddest/scariest moments of your life… and all you’ve got is me twittering “help with be with you as soon as…”

  24. Shorsh Says:

    This really pulls at my heart.
    My aunt (aged 41) was found in her flat in August by my other aunt. I have no details of the moment she realised she was dead, just my imagination. This post in a way describes how I felt upon finding out that my aunt was lying on a sofa dead. Despite not seeing it in person, in my head something like the above occured.

    Thankyou.

  25. Nee Naw - Somefoolwith_ahabari Says:

    [...] No doubt I’ve mentioned these before; Nee Naw – Blog of a Dispatcher in the London Ambulance Service’s Control Room is always a good read, no less so than today’s postI knew it was going to be a suspended the second the operator connected the call. Whilst a hysterical caller does not always (or even usually) mean a serious call, these weren’t the usual panicking screams but howls of sheer terror. I wondered if it was going to be something gruesome; it was almost a relief went she told me that the patient was her elderly grandmother, who was “not waking up”. #And Random Acts Of Reality is another blog which is also always very interesting. [...]

  26. Nee Naw - Somefoolwit_habari Says:

    [...] a relief went she told me that the patient was her elderly grandmother, who was “not waking up”. #And Random Acts Of Reality is another blog which is also always very [...]

    Nee Naw
    Nee Naw was a blog about life in the London Ambulance Service control room. It was written by Suzi Brent from 2005 to 2010. The blog is no longer being updated, but the archives will remain here.
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