Life Cycles.

It’s funny that less than 2 weeks after feeling elated, nay euphoric, over the fact that we successfully resuscitated two people, that we should attend two deaths were nothing can be done.

Not my usual crew mate, but a lady I’ve worked with often and get on well with. She’s an experienced Paramedic with something like 19 years under her belt.

Our first emergency call of the day was to a fall that was in the next city, so a fair drive. Half way there, our control divert us to an emergency back in our own town (It’s impossible to predict things like this)! It had come through as an elderly gentleman who had collapsed and was not breathing. I turned the ambulance around and made progress to the address Traffic was bad and it took a lot of ducking and diving to weave my way safely thought the country lanes. Blue lights flashing and sirens blaring.

We arrived to find that a Paramedic on a Rapid Response Vehicle (RRV) had arrived first, so we rushed into the house where we were pointed in the bedroom by a lady we assumed to be the patient’s wife. Our colleague on the RRV was alone in the room with the patient who was on the floor and looking a shade of blue/purple. He obviously wasn’t breathing and the monitor that our colleague had attached showed his heart was in Asystole (the flat line often seen on TV shows like Casualty and ER). The RRV Paramedic looked at us instantly and shook his head. We all knew what that meant. He had collapsed quite some time before 999 was called. Then followed probably the worst 35 minutes of my life.

The RRV Paramedic volunteered to tell the wife that her husband of 60+ years was dead. The howl of devastation that followed will not leave me for some time. It was the sound of her very soul escaping amongst questions of “Why?!” and ‘What if I had only…?’ We did our best to comfort her but it must have seemed as though it was an awful moment from which she may never recover. I was sad. Not for the gentleman who had passed away, he was at peace. No, I felt sad for the family that he had left behind. His daughter was on scene too, but was clearly in shock, with wide eyes and not a lot to say.

The gentleman was too large to lift back onto the bed, and so I arranged some pillows under his head and covered him up to the neck with a blanket – as if he was taking a nap. I talked to him while I did this, apologising that there was nothing we could do, and that we would look after his wife for the short time we were there. I’m not sure why I talk to the deceased but I know I’m not the only healthcare worker that does!

The Police were called (as they always are in an unexpected death) to act as coroner’s officers, and completed the necessary paperwork (of which there is lots). While this was done, my crew mate asked the wife if she’d like to see him. She said that she would, and so was taken into the bedroom. To see a lady, near 80 years of age, drop to her knees and wail over the body of her husband was awful. She hugged him and kissed him, telling him how much she loved him. It was heartbreaking. We sat her back with her daughter, passed our condolences and left them in the care of the Police Officer.

My crew mate, the RRV Paramedic and I were all allowed back to our station for a brew and to regain some composure (we’re no good to our next patient, if we’re still thinking of our last). I’m not ashamed to say that I was quite teary. I looked over and saw my crew mate filling up, as well as the RRV Paramedic. 52 years of experience sat in that room, 49 of them from my two colleagues. We all sat in silence a moment and reflected. We talked for a while about it. “It’s not that often that a job will really affect us all like that”, we agreed.

Half way through our cup of tea, our radio tones went off and our dispatcher called through.

“I’m really sorry guys, we’ve got another job coming in……”

Then the radio fell silent. He called back a second later sounding devastated at what the call was, and that we would have to attend immediately after dealing with that unforgettable, harrowing call.

“It’s coming in as a lady ‘on the floor, possibly dead'”.

We didn’t hesitate, rushed to our vehicles – all three of us – and sped to the address. We arrived in less than 5 minutes to find that sadly, once again, nothing could be done. The lady had been found by a neighbour who’d popped round to see her. She had died at some point in the night, meaning resuscitation would have not been successful.

We sent the RRV back to station and dealt with the scene. Police, paperwork and consolation. This time the family were not on scene and had to be phoned to tell them the news. I think that made this situation easier to witness (this sounds selfish, but I don’t think either of us could take another emotional beating like the last call).

It’s an odd feeling when you can’t save someone. A mix of emotions run through you like a freight train. But such is the empathic nature of ambulance staff, we feel sadness for the family, not ourselves.

I shed a tear later when I got home that night, comforted by my beautiful girlfriend. I know it’s cliché, but things like that really do make you appreciate your loved ones.

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