Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Nosey Neighbours

"40 West St, East Area, Baby crying constantly for last hour".

It's a call that's come directly from the police.

That's an emergency? That's what I spent all that time training for? You need parenting classes, not an emergency ambulance! Nevertheless, it's off to the address to see what's probably a teething baby and convey it needlessly to hospital. One of the residents of number 40 is standing on the doorstep, and we head over towards them. It's about one in the morning, the street's quiet, and other than our voices, there are no other sounds. Not even a crying baby.

"You managed to calm the baby down then?"

"No, the baby's still crying. Follow me please."

We walk up a flight of stairs, and I still don't hear any crying. We're shown into a back room, and finally, a faint cry can be heard. Except that there's no baby in the room, and it's almost as though, judging by the direction of the noise, that the baby's been hidden in the cupboard.

"Where's the baby?"

"We think it's next door. There are no babies in this house, and it's been crying for nearly two hours now."

"If the baby's next door, why did you bring us here?" I can't help thinking that this is a case of nosey-neighbouritis.

"We've tried knocking on the door, ringing the doorbell, and nothing. No-one's answering. They're a really nice couple. He works some weird hours, think he's a copper or detective or something, and she's always home with the little one. Only seems to go out for shopping."

We go back out the house and try to look through the front door and windows. There's a light shining through from the back of the house, and some flickering that suggests the television is on too. Someone's definitely home. An adult. Just like the neighbours, we try the doorbell, we try banging on the door and the windows. When there's still no response, we ask the police to turn up. Just to tug a little harder on the heartstrings in the police control room, and hopefully ensure a more swift response, we tell them that there's possibly an infant in danger.

It works. Less than five minutes later there are two units on scene.

One of the officers goes back into number 40, into the back garden, and scales the fence to see if he can find anyone or anything. A few seconds later, there's a yell.

"She's here, on the ground. The doors are locked, someone get the enforcer!"

The enforcer is affectionately known as the big red door key. It's a single-operator battering ram, made of metal and painted red, weighing several kilos. It opens most front doors with just a few well-placed blows. Hence the key reference. It's not carried in all police vehicles, and sometimes has to be specially requested to scene.

Whilst we wait, and feeling a little more athletic than normal, I decide to scale the fence myself to have a look.

She's lying on the floor of the kitchen, face down and looking away from the door. The only movement is her slow, rhythmical breathing. The television is showing some shopping channel, trying to sell an item for thousands that is probably only worth its weight in paper. As I'm standing next to the police officer, his radio blares back that the enforcer is on its way, but it'll take 15 minutes or so to get there. At a rough estimate, and looking from a distance through the patio door, our patient was breathing no more than 6 times a minute, barely enough to sustain life for any length of time. Back over the fence and through the neighbours' front door, I call out to Kim.

"I need the oxygen bag and a blanket!" My crew mate looks at me confused.

"Have you found a way in?"

"Not yet, but we're about to!"

I take the items round the back of the house, and grab another pair of hands in the form of a tall police officer. The officers take one top corner each of the blanket, and place it over the double-glazed door.

"Wish me luck!" The first tentative strike at the glass meets with stubborn resistance.

The second is more successful. The shattered glass cascades downwards like a shower of hail, the blanket protecting the officers and me from getting covered. The patient is far enough from the door not to be at any risk.

One step into the house and the smell gives away its secret. One officer goes to the front door and opens it. He yells to everyone not to touch any light switches.

I go to the unconscious patient and using a bag and mask, help to pump oxygen into her starved lungs.

The second officer goes straight to the gas hob and turns off the ring that had blown out.

Kim runs upstairs and grabs a baby, no more than six months old.

A torrent of instructions are yelled in all directions, from needing more oxygen and opening all the windows, to getting the carry chair, alerting the fire-brigade, the need to get us all out and both mother and baby to hospital in a hurry. No other crew is available, so we're taking them both. with a 2 metre tall policeman playing nursemaid to the baby, she looks like a miniature doll in his arms.

At hospital, when they're no longer our patients, it's a little easier to reflect. To ask all the what ifs.

What if we'd have been a little longer?

What if the baby hadn't cried so loudly?

What, despite my initial cynicism, if the neighbours hadn't been so nosey?

Luckily, we never found out.


Deborah said...

Phew!!! All the hairs on the back of my neck have just stood on end. Scary.

TOTWTYTR said...

Good work. Above and beyond what we're normally expected to do, but not above and beyond what we actually do.

Although I was chastised for commenting on a similar call that the rescuers should wait for the fire department to show up with their SCBA gear. By which time of coruse, both patients likely would have been dead.

I'm glad you didn't wait, and I know you are too.

InsomniacMedic said...

Deborah - Thanks for your comment! Scary stuff indeed, thankfully not all that frequent!
TOTWTYTR - you're right. Safety first. It's ingrained into every trainee. When I was doing my training I was repeatedly asked what I would do if there was a building on fire and a kid screaming from a first floor window. I know what they wanted to hear me say, and I know it wasn't what I answered every single time...

Anonymous said...

Wow. Not normally one for emotion, as I'm sure you're well aware! but that had me going. Closest I've been in a long time to shedding a tear! Dr Abuse

oneunder said...

Not what we are trained to do and against the rules.
We all join to make a difference and I don't know anyone who would have done this any differently.
We are trained to do 'dynamic risk assessment'. You knew what risks you were taking and you did what you believed was right.

Good on you.

peevedcivilian said...

Fair play to you! Glad there are people out there like you willing to put their lives in danger to save others.