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”.