Sunday, 23 January 2011

Birthday Boy

The shift had been relentless:

Two unsuccessful resuscitation attempts, including one young person. 

One serious motorbike accident, unlikely to survive. 

One serious stroke, unlikely to survive.

Two asthma attacks. 

And a twenty year old with tonsillitis somewhere in the middle of the mess.  

There was still an hour left of the shift, and we hadn't stopped once in the previous eleven. I was working with Gary, 50-something in body, still a teenager in spirit. He'd joined a little before I did, his previous job having lost its sparkle, as he looked for a new adventure whilst headed towards the end of his forties. In the short few months we'd worked together, we'd found a rhythm. We each preferred different types of calls, we could tell when the other was off-colour, but would both kick into gear when it was really necessary. Sometimes there was no need for words. Whatever needed doing was just done. 

This time, it was his turn to drive and mine to attend, yet as with most regular crews, it was more a case of who was in charge of the writing, and who of the driving. The actual caring for the patients was done by both of us irrespective of what was on the actual ticket. 

"You OK?" Gary asked, as I rested my head back on the attendant's seat, closing my eyes for a second. 

"Think so," I sighed, "just a bit tired. It's been one of those again, hasn't it?" 

"Well, they can't throw anything else at us now, can they? There can't possibly be anyone really sick left!"

With that, we pushed the green button to let the Brain know we were ready to go. Just one more call, and then it'd be home time. Within seconds, the computer rang, and another call appeared out of the ether. 

Toddler-aged, fallen, bleeding from the ear, unconscious. Address? Two hundred metres from the next hospital down from where we were.

I stared in disbelief at the screen, my head and insides screaming for some sort of respite. This doesn't sound like the sort of call that is going to be an easy, end-of-crazy-shift, non-thinking, walk 'em on, walk 'em off the other end type. 

Gary drove as quickly as the rush-hour traffic would allow, the flashing lights and blaring siren apparently  completely invisible and inaudible to the people rushing home to their families after a long day at the office. The frustrations were building, the anxiety of the unknown trauma caused to the child beginning to play havoc with my already shattered brain and body. Adrenaline was building up and coursing its way through my bloodstream, and was only increased when what seemed like half the street were stood outside and waving frantically to show us the right house. 

As we pulled up outside, I jumped out the door, grabbed the bags from the ambulance, and ran up the stairs following the man who said he was the baby's uncle. 

"What's happened?" I ask the uncle. He either doesn't hear the question, or doesn't understand it. 

"Just come quickly, look, see!" Gary's a step behind me, and equally as anxious. 

We step into a lounge, balloons and streamers are everywhere, and a banner that reads "Happy 2nd Birthday" hangs above a shelf that is covered in cards. There are at least thirty people in the room, some eating cake, some drinking tea or coffee, all chatting amongst themselves. The birthday boy sits in the middle of the floor, surrounded by presents and wrapping paper torn to shreds, beaming from ear to ear. Cake crumbs are strewn all around him, and blue and red icing covers his face, leaving him with an almost clown-like appearance. 

The adrenaline build-up had no practical escape, and I lost it. 

"I thought he fell?" It was more a demand than a question. "I thought he was unconscious? And I thought he was bleeding from his ear?"

"He IS bleeding!" It was a new voice, another male, who identified himself as the father. "Come and look!"

He picked up the toddler, who cried at being dragged away from his new toys, turned him sharply round, and made me gaze at his left ear. There, at the top of his ear, was a pin prick of dried blood. "He scratched it with this toy, and we want you take him to the doctor. I knew if I said he was unconscious, that you'd come quicker. He needs to be back for the rest of his party!"

Through gritted teeth, I started to answer him back. I got two words into my sentence, when there was a hand on my collar, pulling me back. 

"Go out to the ambulance, and get the bandages ready." Softly spoken as ever, Gary prised me away from the situation, and gently threw me out the house. "We'll be down in a minute." 

The parents demanded that their little boy be seen at hospital, and we obliged, but this time Gary stayed in the back, and I drove. I couldn't guarantee that I'd bite my tongue long enough to get us through the two minute journey. Gary took them into the department, and as they walked past the front of the ambulance, I wound down the window and called out to the patient.

"Happy Birthday," I yelled, as I sat and pondered just how close I had come to losing everything I had worked for, if Gary hadn't have stepped in when he did.

The little boy grinned back, and shyly hid his head in his father's shoulder.

"That was some day," Gary sighed as he stepped back into the cab.

"Could've been worse!" I answered, not entirely convinced myself. "Here," I said, handing him the keys to the ambulance. "Drive us home."

It was a silent ten minutes back to station, as we both mulled over the day's events. Back at the station, we gathered our belongings, tidied up the ambulance ready for the next crew, and set about going our separate ways. As Gary was stepping out the back door of the station, I called after him.

"Thanks for today, especially that last one. You probably saved my job!"

"See you tomorrow, we'll do it all again."

"Isn't it your birthday tomorrow?"

"Yup. But I'm not planning on cutting my ear, so I reckon I'm safe."

He laughed, and I threw an empty plastic bottle at him, which dropped a couple of feet short, but made him trip over his own feet as he tried to beat a hasty retreat. It was my turn to laugh.

"See you tomorrow Birthday Boy." 


oneunder said...

And thats what a crew mate is for.
They stop you doing something stupid and they make sure that you do the right thing. They stand back and look at the situation with different eyes, not quite as drawn in to the situation. They quietly check your work and keep you safe when the situation changes.

And that is why single responders are at an enhanced risk. The risk of making a mistake and the risk of being hurt.

CSI Guy said...

Very well written. Very good read. I'm a new follower and will read each post with interest. Looking forward to it.

Sippy Cups and Stethoscopes said...

I can relate to situations like this! Both the connection with your partner and the call itself! Those days of non stop chaos are exhausting. But at least you know when you get back to work, you have a great partner watching out for you!

Anonymous said...

Sounds to me like the bloke deserved an earful. His attitude sucks.
Out of interest, obviously you responded on blues (sorry not in the profession so prob using wrong words. Am just a nosey person who thinks you do a fascinating job). But once you had got there and established it was not an emergency, when you took them to hospital I am assuming you can downgrade it and just drive normally.
Do you think there is a solution to the obvious abuse of the 999 system? Idiots like him must cost lives.
Hope you don't mind the questions.

Anonymous said...

The idiocy of some people, really astounds me! Knowing you as I do, I'm shocked that the father is still alive!! If ever there was someone more deserving of a smack! Dr Abuse

InsomniacMedic said...

Minty -
The computer decides the category of the calls, and whether we need to respond on lights or not. Once we've assessed the patient, we then make the decision as to whether an emergency transfer to hospital is also required. At a guess, that's probably fewer than 10% of the total calls we attend...
The solution has to be in education, and it has to start young. I don't think that as an ambulance service we do enough in places like schools. I know that there are some community projects, but that they are sorely lacking in time, manpower and resources.
Unlike the Fire Brigade, for example, and with no disrespect meant to them, we don't have the time between calls to attend public places and spend time on teaching the public.
It's something I've tried to do, but it involves being proactive, and willing to give freely of your own free time, something that we all have precious little of these days...
Thanks for reading and commenting regularly!

Anonymous said...

You see that shocks me. That getting out and educating people is something you should have to do on your own time. The ambulance service should be pushing the message. All those inappropriate calls must cost money
and lives.
I don't ever recall believing that an ambulance was ever for anything except for very serious emergencies. It is something all right thinking people teach their kids. It's what mine taught me and what I tell my four year old. I honestly believed untill I started to read your blogs that nobody ever rang an ambulance unless they truly needed you.
I think there is place for enfircement too. Keep abusing the service and you will have to pay. I know that
sometimes something minor can appear more serious than it is and genuine mistakes must be made.
I think your employers would do well to put together a piece from all your blogs highlighting the worst abuses.. direct from you the people that tell it in your own words.
Sadly I also think those guilty of the stupidist calls possibly don't care and will carry on regardless.
Best wishes,