It was the middle of the afternoon on Christmas Day, and a desperate sounding old lady called 999.

“Do you know where they’ve taken my husband?” she begged. “He only popped out for some gravy. I didn’t realise we’d run out, you see. The shop is only down the road! An hour later, he hadn’t come back from the shop, so I went round there myself. They said a man fitting his description had collapsed and they’d called an ambulance!”

“What’s the address of the shop?” asked the call taker. (Although we are not allowed to give out details of calls and where patients have been taken because of the data protection act, we can give callers information that might help them find a relative, like suggesting which hospital to call.)

The call taker inputted the address of the shop. It was at this point the call appeared on my screen.

I knew exactly where her husband was.

“Have you tried ringing Queens A+E?” said the call taker.

“Yes, they said no one of his name had been brought in!” said the old lady.

I knew why that was too.

When the ambulance crew arrived, her husband had been in cardiac arrest. His heart had only just stopped beating, so the crew had worked on him all the way to hospital. No one in the shop knew his name or where he lived and there was no time to find out. He was booked into A+E as “Unknown Male”. It was only when the doctors decided to terminate the resus attempt that attention turned to identifying him. We’d called the police – thankfully, tracing the relatives of unidentified deceased people is not one of our jobs.

The call taker read all of this on the log of the call. Then he went back to the old lady. In a careful, measured voice, he took the old lady’s details and logged them on the call. He told her to stay at home and someone would be in touch. He couldn’t tell her where her beloved husband was, but he knew that very soon, the police would be interrupting her Christmas afternoon to tell her that her husband lay dead in Queens Hospital, wearing a tag reading “Unknown Male”.

Published Dec 29, 2009 - 31 Comments and counting

31 Comments on “Unknown Male”
  1. William Says:

    That's a sad story, but I find the way the way the call taker dealt with it very professional and wise. It must have been had to do…

  2. Fee Says:

    That's so awful. There isn't a good time to lose a spouse, but Christmas day is a really, really bad time. I only hope she has family she can turn to.

    I feel for the call taker as well – what a horrible position to be in. I imagine that sort of thing stays with you.

  3. Jen Says:

    Heartbreaking. You often forget that – as far as life is concerned – Christmas Day is just another day where people are born and die. The positive in all of this is thanks to the call taker the woman would know what happened to her husband sooner rather than later. Hardly comforting given the news, but better than having to wait hours – or even overnight – for someone to find out who he was and inform his family.

  4. thejobbingdoctor Says:

    So so sad.

    Jobbing Doctor.

  5. Kathryn Says:

    Heartbreaking for everyone…Praying here.

  6. nickopotamus Says:

    It's quite "nice" being able to detach yourself from those type of jobs, and let the police do the tracking down part. In this occasion you didn't have a choice about it though. It's hard enough on the woman, having her husband "disappear", let alone on you having to speak to her about it, putting a human side to the "mystery person", before adding on the stress of not being able to tell her! I feel for you and the call taker…

  7. Nee Naw - Unknown Male Male Me Says:

    [...] here to see the original:  Nee Naw – Unknown Male By admin | category: male | tags: called-the-police, doctors, doctors-decided, male, [...]

  8. Twitter Trackbacks for Nee Naw - Unknown Male [] on Says:

    [...] Nee Naw - Unknown Male – view page – cached It was the middle of the afternoon on Christmas Day, and a desperate sounding old lady called 999. [...]

  9. uberVU - social comments Says:

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by UKMedic999: A heart breaking blog post from @NeeNaw :

  10. Holdfast Says:

    I was called in on Christmas day and I saw a family sitting waiting. I remember thinking "I was in that position exactly 1 week ago".
    This is the thing about the NHS. We are not only workers. We are all potential, or actual, users as well.

  11. Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-01-03 | Life Under the Lights Says:

    [...] @UKMedic999: A heart breaking blog post from @NeeNaw : [...]

  12. RRD Says:

    It's so awful. We often get calls at A&E, asking if we've had someone's husband or wife brought in. Not so bad if we have noone by that name, and no unknown's in the Department; horrible if we do…

  13. storytellERdoc Says:

    What a sad but poignant post. Thanks for the writing and sharing. I'm actually glad the holidays have passed since, in the ER, we tend to get a lot of depressing and tragic events during the season. Not sure if we get more or they are just magnified from the holidays.

    Well done.

  14. Liam Sizer Says:

    You'd think that after thirty-one years on the front – line of the ambulance service that I would be pretty much inured to stories of this nature but my wife has often said that I must be the world's softest ambulanceman. As I reached the line about the doctors "calling it" I apparently whispered "Ah shit" under my breath. My wife asked why but I didn't trust myself to speak straight away so she came and looked at the screen and read the story. Our hearts go out to the poor lady.

  15. darlolfc Says:

    i feel so sorry for her especially seen it was on christmas day

  16. SJA_ETA Says:

    It is the most awful thing to have happen during the Christmas period… It happened to me as well

  17. Sam Says:

    I have been reading your blog with great interest – following the link from The Time (sorry – have probably whacked your statistics right up!) and have just come across your Ten Commandments for 999 callers – and it has prompted me to ask the question – how could I apply those commandments to myself should I ever have to make a 999 call (God forbid!) because I am deaf – now…if I were at home I could use Typetalk and that wouldn't be a problem, but the chances are that I would be using my mobile phone and I have always imagined that I would simply repeat my information over and over until someone arrives!! Any thoughts on this?!?

  18. Suzi Brent Says:

    I think repeating your information over and over until someone arrives would work! Just remember to give the whole address and as much information as possible about what is wrong – and tell the call taker that you're deaf otherwise they'll wonder why on earth you are repeating yourself! Obviously, there are occasions when "following the commandments" is going to be impossible and call takers understand that – that post was aimed at people who don't know what to do, not people who have a disability or something else standing in the way of them making a "perfect" call.

  19. Mike Says:

    Both of my brothers are paramedics and I work as an assistant allocator we all work for the Welsh ambulance service. I think Nee Naw is great, keep up the good work, I'm not sure we would get away with keeping a blog our management would be down on us like a ton of bricks.

  20. Kieran Says:

    Hi Suzi, No stories recently? I know you are around, seen you commenting on Reynold's and maybe Kal's blog (not sure about Kal's). Hope you post something new soon!

  21. Mike Says:

    Hi Suzi,
    Just finished your book – brilliant!! Best of luck with your career and thanks for all your hard work. Keep your head above the water and pull us all to shore!

  22. Rayny Says:

    That is a very sobering article, and I would like everybody who complains about lifes minor irritations to read it.
    Once more, I look forward to reading your next blog, please come back soon.

  23. Chris Pritchard Says:

    Sam, sign your mobile phone up to then you can text 999, it gives you a guide on what to include on the website. They will then text the response back to you (including if they need any further information)

  24. Kristine Says:

    That's so sad and on Christmas too. I think it's also hard for paramedics and healthcare workers especially when they lose a patient on Christmas. Somehow, the season makes losing a person doubly hard.

  25. gumshoeuk2000 Says:

    Such a sad story…but it has prompted me to go out and get your book…thanks suzi

  26. Alison Says:

    Typical, get a book deal, get the money and then swan off and not even bother to update anymore. Well done, won't bother checking back, no point anyway.

  27. Henna Says:

    i think its very emotional and all that makes us think of how unreliable our lives are, old people are beocming less and less active and whatever happens to them is very sad, on the other hand, what the medical staff and emergency people are doing is commendable, being so nice and leaving behind their own family to help others, great really

  28. SilkyPaw Says:

    That's awful sad

  29. Frank Says:

    what's happened to your blog? I really enjoyed it!

  30. AnaVar Says:

    Sad story, especially on Christmas. It must have been hard for call taker too, but his respond was wise. I think it's better to hear a bad news personally.

  31. Sean Says:

    A tear is rolling down my face. Im an ambulance techi and I have always said, I do my job well, but I couldnt do yours! to hear pain and suffering, not being able to intervene, and to just hope that we get there and deal with it while you crack on and take the next……Keep up the good work guys!

    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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