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”.
I’m back! Did you miss me?
I spent a month in Australia, visiting Sydney, Alice Springs and surrounding desert and tropical North Queensland. I had a whale of a time and didn’t want to come back. Oddly enough, when I went to Queensland I found my hotel was right next to the local ambulance station. I might have stood around taking photos of it like a right old spotter. I swear this wasn’t planned.
When I got back from Australia I decided to take a bit of a blogging holiday. Life is a bit hectic at the moment and morale at Nee Naw Control isn’t exactly high right now. It never is this time of year, especially for those of us who are working Christmas and New Year and not getting any extra pay, whilst our colleagues who are rostered off are eligible for triple pay if they choose to come in. Ouch.
Anyway, I’m back now with some tales of seasonal woe. You will not be surprised to learn that it’s been very busy over the last couple of weeks due to a combination of horrible weather and people overindulging at Christmas parties. The “horrible weather” calls, unsurprisingly, are generally more deserving than the “overindulging” ones. Most are complete timewasters who call us because their mate is too drunk to get in a cab and they are too scared to ring his mother. But there are some exceptions. The other night, we blued a young woman in after a “sambuca overdose”. She was completely unconscious, though I suspect she’ll recover with no more than a serious hangover and patchy memory. But then…
“30YOM” I read on my screen. “UNCONSCIOUS. NOT BREATHING.”
As soon as I’d sent the ambulances, I called the police – standard procedure for any unexplained cardiac arrest in a young person. The police came straight back to warn us they had no officers available. I had to make the decision whether to tell the crew to hold off until there were police available (endangering the patient) or go straight in (possibly endangering the crew).
I lifted the phone to listen in and heard someone, who I presumed was the patient’s mother, talking to the call taker. She was upset but coherent.
“He had so much to drink last night… I think he’s choked on his vomit, he’s covered…” she wept.
Someone in the background was doing CPR. I could hear the crunching of the patient’s ribs.
“He’s making AWFUL noises,” said the mother. “Oh, stop, it’s…”
“No,” said the call taker. “You must carry on, unless he’s started breathing by himself…”
“He’s not breathing,” said the mother. “Just… gurgling… listen…”
I recoiled from the phone as I heard the most awful sound. The rasps of agonal breathing with additional… bubbling.
The call taker had clearly heard enough too.
“Yes, I can hear, but you MUST carry on with the compressions until the ambulance arrives,” he commanded. “Tell your husband to keep going and to count aloud and I’ll tell you when the ambulance arrives.”
Right on cue, the first ambulance pulled up outside the door (we’d let them know it sounded safe to go in), so I hung up and let the call taker know it was time to get someone outside.
They got him back.
A matter of minutes later, he was blued in, post cardiac arrest, breathing regularly, blood pressure and pulse not bad, considering. He was starting to regain consciousness.
Like a lot of people, I bet he’ll be vowing never to drink again when he comes round. Unlike a lot of them, he might actually mean it.