Tragedies are common in this job. Ambulances aren’t supposed to go to happy events. But usually, in every call, there’s a glimmer of hope, a small positive that we can take home from the situation. Occasionally, this is not so. Occasionally a job is just horror from beginning to end and makes you shudder and feel cold inside.
To begin with, there was no indication that the call was anything out of the ordinary. A few days before Christmas, a thirty-nine year old female, in labour. Waters broken. Baby due on Christmas day. How sweet. Sixteen year old daughter making the call. Panicking a bit. As we sent the ambulance, we rolled our eyes and made the usual comments about maternataxis and how after sixteen years as a mother one should know how to get to hospital by taxi and…
The ticket updated to indicate that the pregnant woman was having a fit. Okay, we ate our words and realised this was a medical emergency. We made sure the crew knew that – although of course that wouldn’t make them drive there any faster, would it? An emergency call is an emergency call!
Just as the ambulance was pulling up, the ticket updated again. It now read as follows:
“39YOF IN LABOUR, WATERS BROKEN. EDD 25/12/09. NOW ? FITTING NOW ? CARDIAC ARREST”
We weren’t sure what was going on and there was a suspicion amongst us that the teenage daughter was either giving the wrong answers to questions as a result of panicking or a language barrier, or, as sometimes happens, she was deliberately making the situation sound worse than it was to get an ambulance quicker. After all, it’s quite a leap from being in labour to being dead, and the two states are not easily confused. While we naturally have these thoughts, we never act on them. Never doubt the integrity of the caller, as they taught us in training school. A second ambulance was sent to assist straight away.
Half an hour later, the blue call came. “It’s H702, blue to hospital, with a 39 year old female, full term pregnancy, in cardiac arrest. We’ll be five minutes.”
So it WAS as given. The desk went very quiet, wondering what on earth had happened.
An hour or so later, we spoke to the crew, who were having a cure-all cup of tea back at station.
“They delivered the baby by emergency caesarian,” one of them told us, “but he was already dead. They managed to get an output from the mother, but as they were taking her up to Intensive Care, she arrested again, and this time they couldn’t get her back.”
“How awful,” I said. “What happened?”
I thought he’d say that she’d suffered from eclampsia or a pulmonary embolism, something big and deadly that no one could have prevented.
“She choked,” said H702. “On a chicken bone. She was in early labour and she was having something to eat with her kids before she went to hospital. As she ate, she collapsed. Her daughter who made the call didn’t realise what was wrong. We only found out as we tried to intubate her. There it was, blocking her airway. We got it out, but by that time, she’d already been down too long.”
So that was it. Something as simple as a chicken bone had ended two lives, robbed a family of their mother and the baby brother due to be born on Christmas Day. Instead of welcoming the new arrival, they’d be planning a double funeral. It’s calls like this that make you appreciate the fragility of life and the knife edge that we all live upon.