A few weeks ago, a two-year-old boy was killed when he was hit by a rollercoaster after accidentally wandering on to the tracks. You may have heard about it in the media. This didn’t happen in my sector, but on the desk opposite, so while I was getting on with my work, I kept picking up snippets of information across the room.

“It sounded awful,” said one of the call takers. “Everyone was screaming. I couldn’t get any sense out of anyone.”

“DSO’s on the phone,” announced the radio op. “He says HEMS are working on him but it’s not looking good. Crews are going to have to go off the road afterwards. The FRU paramedic is really upset. Sounds like a really awful call.”

Seconds later, I had my own call to worry about. A tipsy teenage boy had fallen down a river embankment. His friends couldn’t reach him, but they could see that he was unconscious and had blood trickling from his ear. They couldn’t tell if he was breathing.

As we sent the crew, we asked them to report for HEMS, even though we knew HEMS were the other side of London, dealing with a critically ill toddler. We hoped they’d say HEMS weren’t needed, because there is only one HEMS team and they can’t be in two places at once.

“Perhaps it’s not as bad as it sounds,” said the radio operator dubiously. “He could just be drunk and it could be a scratch on his face. It could turn out to be nothing. Do we know how far he fell?”

I fired up the new “street view” thing on Google maps to get a better look at the river bank in question. Of course, Google probably didn’t intend their map system to be used for this purpose, and there wasn’t a good close up of the riverbank, but I could clearly make out that the river was well below street level and that there was a set of stairs leading down to it. It looked to me that it could be at least a fifteen-foot drop.

The crew arrived and found the stairs we’d seen on the map. As they arrived, the boy was coming round but was extremely confused and cerebrally irritated, lashing out at anyone who tried to come near him. This kind of behaviour (which is sometimes hard to distinguish from alcohol induced aggression) is indicative of a life threatening brain injury. The crew called up for assistance. They needed someone, anyone, down there to help them restrain the boy in order to treat him, and they really needed the help of the HEMS doctor. We sent the police and another ambulance crew…

The phone rang. It was the DSO.

“We heard the crew on the radio. HEMS have done all they can here; the toddler’s on his way to hospital, so they’re coming to you now. Where exactly is the call?”

I told him, and the HEMS team got in the car (the helicopter does not fly at night) and belted it across London. They were at the riverbank in fifteen minutes. They were able to sedate the boy and get him on board the ambulance.

As they got him to hospital, he went into respiratory arrest. The A+E staff all battled to save him, but it was no good. It’s likely he had fractured his skull and had a serious bleed into his brain, and if this was the case, nothing anyone did would have saved him.

Now both the toddler and the teenager were dead.

The next morning the papers were full of stories about the tragedy of the toddler and the fairground ride. Not one mentioned the teenager or the river bank.

Published Jun 14, 2009 - 22 Comments and counting

22 Comments on “Two Tragedies”
  1. janiegotagun Says:

    That's really sad, each life is equally valuable.

  2. Randomer Says:

    Sorry, am a n00b. But can you explain why the HEMS team in particular was needed/why there’s only one of them?!

  3. Dorian Says:

    It is a sad fact that to the news media, the death of a tipsy teenager is nowhere near as tear-jerking (and therefore newsworthy) as that of a toddler.

  4. the Happy Medic Says:

    Did they mention how well the limited resources were managed? How the teams worked hard using their skills and tools? That 2 HEMS teams might have made a difference and tha tthe cost would be justified if it saved even only one life?
    Probably not. I feel for you and your teams.
    HM

  5. Martin Says:

    Well, I don't really think the cost of a HEMS team (the helicopter at least) is justifiable at all. According to their own website, the cost of the service is £1.7 million a year. Think how many extra ambulances and crews that would buy!

    And although its a great sound bite, a life is not priceless. NICE recognise that with their policies, and quite rightly too. We have a certain amount of resources, and we need to spend it wisely.

  6. Flora Gardens Says:

    In view of the above comment, I sincerely hope you never have an accident which requires their expertise. Yes – HEMS frequently turn up at a call where they are not subsequently needed – on the other side of the coin, they are often needed in three different places at once.

    Don't have any nasty accidents, Martin.

  7. Suzi Brent Says:

    Actually, HEMS is a charity – other than the paramedics and doctors' salaries, it receives no NHS funding. So it's not a question of HEMS or ten ambulances (or however many ambulances £1.7 million would pay for) it's HEMS or nothing. Since ambulances are regularly dispatched to non life threatening, rubbish calls and HEMS only attends major trauma, it's quite likely that one more HEMS would be more useful than ten more ambulances though.

  8. Nickopotamus Says:

    Teenages get drunk and injure themselves all the time. Toddlers rarely die through their own stupidity. So although as healthcare providers we look at the two patients equally as two lives that shouldn't be lost, the media don't. Unfortunately :(

  9. Erin Says:

    I always found it funny how the media pick and choose. I once had a call about a parachutist who fell 3000ft without a chute. Needless to say, the very flat boy didn't make it, but not one mention anywhere in the papers. But then there was one about a motorcyclist on his own who just fell off his bike and died, and that was everywhere in the papers, so who knows.

    It is always possible, though, that the press did not know about it. With the news story of a toddler vrs roller-coaster, those reporters would have been tied up.

    A side note, and maybe not the best story to leave it under, but what the hey. A news story I came across, that makes me remember my Friday and Saturday nights as an EMD oh so well. http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/06/15/259

  10. Kate Says:

    Not apropos of the above, I thought of Nee Naw today when we received a brochure (and fridge magnet!) touting Australia's new 24-hour health advice line. With luck it'll mop up lots of genuine but non-emergency calls.

  11. RapidResponseDoc Says:

    My question to you, Nee Naw, is what about a BASICS Doctor? Are there any in your area? A good BASICS doctor should be able to provide the same care as the HEMS team – in fact, most of us are ex-HEMS. I am concerned that BASICS are not utilised as much as they should be.

  12. Suzi Says:

    We did check for BASICS doctors but there were none available. I agree, though, the BASICS doctors could be used better. It's often difficult to find whether one is available or not.

  13. Erwin Says:

    We really need to advise our children about the consequences that these drugs can cause, there are many like ecstasy, LSD, Oxycontin and even that is a pain medication, which the young are taken by the hallucinations that cause them, in findrxonline may find much information about these drugs and their consequences.

  14. Random Says:

    Where were the kid's parents/babysitters?

  15. Renal Says:

    Regarding HEMS; to the best of my knowledge, there was a study done on the cost-effectiveness of HEMS in their early days. Back then it was reckoned that the savings – through reduced morbidity and increased return to work – just about covered the cost of the service.

  16. Jamie Says:

    "Where were the kid's parents/babysitters?"
    About 5 metres away having taken their eye off the ball for a few moments. It doesn't take long for tragedy to hit, and the incinuation of neglect is pretty nasty.

    "HEMS only attends major trauma"
    Half of what HEMS attends is dross.
    Frankly the HEMS charity would save more lives in london by paying for a few more fully trained paramedics.

  17. Susan Segrave Says:

    Well Said Suzi…………….
    The Hems team saved my 19 year old daughter Kirsty; who was involved in a serious RTA. Kirsty sustained a traumatic head injury among other injuries and spent months at the Royal London Hospital. If it wasnt for this life saving service, I would have lost everything. My Heroes'
    We both now work in the Air Amulance shop at the Royal London (voluntary) a few days a week…
    You never know when you may need these guys…..

  18. jamie Says:

    Good bit of news for you! the teenager that fell onto the riverbank didnt die like the DSO told you, I know this as i was part of the crew sent to the job! He did have two cardiac arrests whilst we were waiting for HEMS, we transferred him following a RSI from HEMS to the london with an output.

    Myself and my crew mate of that job visited the teenager a week later and found him full of smiles and totally clueless as to what had happened, infact he was going back home to holland the next day. His total injuries included a hairline fracture of his pelvis, fractured forearm and for the cause for the cardiac arrest it seems his anti depressants had widened his QT interval thus causing a cardiac arrest!

    Any how thought you would like to know?!

  19. Suzi Brent Says:

    Thanks SO much for letting me know that. I'm really pleased he survived. It was such a depressing shift. It's always great to know the outcome of the calls we've dealt with, especially when it's good news – and I hope your comment will be food for thought for those people who were doubting the value of HEMS.

  20. Suzi Brent Says:

    Really sorry – didn't mean to devalue the great work you did that night. I was on the desk and know what you did. I was responding to the people above who said that HEMS was a waste of money. After all, if we had two HEMS teams you wouldn't have had to wait an hour for them.

  21. jamie Says:

    Not that Im saying HEMs dont do a great job but the kid was resuscitated and all the hard work was done by the time they eventually turned up. In fact it was a A&E crew and MRU that did it all whilst the tide of the river was coming in, which has its obvious dangers, in fact HEMs took just under an hour to turn up without any update as to their status, which left us wrestling with him in the pitch dark with all his friends screaming, so maybe dare i say it the LAS staff should get the praise?!

  22. Twitter Trackbacks for Nee Naw - Two Tragedies [neenaw.co.uk] on Topsy.com Says:

    [...] Nee Naw - Two Tragedies http://www.neenaw.co.uk/index.php/ambulances/392/two-tragedies – view page – cached A few weeks ago, a two-year-old boy was killed when he was hit by a rollercoaster after accidentally wandering on to the tracks. You may have heard about it in the media. This didn’t happen in my sector, but on the desk opposite, so while I was getting on with my work, I kept picking up snippets of information across the room. — From the page [...]

    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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