…was actually what it was supposed to be this time; This was my first shift working as a registered Paramedic. I’d been given my shiny new ‘Paramedic’ epaulettes, a personal issue Morphine log book and Morphine pouch and was ready to take the lead on the Ambulance for 12 hours.
My first shift as a Para was with my old mentor. We agreed to meet on station early to go through the daily drug audit process – a lengthy but legally necessary process where the first Paramedic to book in/out controlled drugs after midnight that day, has to perform a full controlled drug count and note it in the log book.
Once that was complete, we grabbed the keys ready to check the vehicle before the start of our shift. Suddenly, somewhere between putting the kettle on and grabbing my hi-vis kit, the station phone rang:
“I’m really sorry to call you early, guys, but I’ve got a Red Call that’s just come in in the next village and the nearest crew is 20 minutes away, can you book on early for me??”
The voice was that of one of our Dispatchers, a particularly efficient and trustworthy Dispatcher who happens to be a close personal friend of mine. I knew she wouldn’t ask us to book on early unless she had to.
“Yeah of course, whats the details?”
“It’s a 19 month old who’s been scalded by boiling water”
An immediate rush of adrenaline rushes across me, along with 100 questions about what had happened; how much water; where are they burnt; was this non-accidental; where were the parents; how in the name of all that is Holy do I manage this patient?!
“Right, send it down, mark us as Mobile to Scene.”
“Will do, thank you so much.”
I holler through the garage to my crew mate who responded by firing up the truck, which revved to life after rare 12 hour break. We both jumped in the cab and rushed the 8 or so minutes to the address. The whole way there I was thinking how that after months and months of having nothing but non-injury falls and drunk students, my first shift as a Paramedic commenced with what would be considered a nightmare job! I had to consider assessment strategies, treatment plans, drug protocols, the availability of the air ambulance, our proximity to hospital compared to the regional burns centre, how I would calm the child, how I would calm the parents – all this while my crew mate drove at 60mph through the town centre.
We arrived at the three-story Georgian-style new-build to find a very anxious looking Mum at the door. As I jumped out, she said “I’m a Police officer, please don’t report me!” This eased tension quite quickly. Even in dire circumstances, the blue-light team always have a warped sense of humour.
“Where are we going?” I replied while smiling calmly but secretly shitting myself.
Mum pointed upstairs. She needn’t have bothered, I simply followed the screams until I found the bathroom where a stripped naked boy lay in his fully-clothed dad’s arms, both sat in the bath tub, dad spraying him with a cool shower – the absolute best thing to do initially for any burn.
I took a quick history while I opened the burns kit. My crew mate, instinctively knowing that we would be ‘scooping and running’, began preparing the ambulance to transport the patient and parents.
The child had severe scald burns to his lower face, lips, neck, chest, shoulders, arms and back. It was a full, fresh made coffee that he’d grabbed from the kitchen worktop while his mum turned her back for a second that had caused the damage. There were several large blisters that had already burst, and several more forming.
It’s very important that we (pre-hospital clinicians) estimate the total body surface area that has been burned. There are several quick-and-dirty methods to do this, my favourite at the moment is to treat the patient’s whole palm and fingers as 1% and work it from that. I estimated that in this case, the lad had approximately 10% superficial and partial-thickness burns. This is a significant burn % area for a child and it confirmed my suspicions that we would be bypassing the nearest A&E and heading for the regional burns centre.
We gave him some Calpol (liquid paracetamol/Tylenol for those abroad), strong oral pain relief (liquid morphine) and turned off the shower. We placed cling-film over his burns* and placed cooling burns dressings over the top. Mum carried him to the ambulance while dad changed into some dry clothes.
Once aboard, I completed as many clinical observations as you can on a highly distressed 19 month old, then blue-lighted him to the burns centre. I phoned ahead on the red-phone (the priority line) to prepare the team for my patient.
It was an uneventful journey. The pain relief kicked in quite quickly, and cartoons on Dad’s iPhone were a hit, too! At the hospital I handed over to the Consultant Paediatrician who praised the parents for their quick actions in administering first aid. I sensed he could see the guilt in their eyes of having left a hot drink in reach of their child and wanted to try to pacify them. It was clearly an accident and an easy mistake to make. They weren’t the first and certainly won’t be the last parents to do this! The hospital team thanked us and set to work on the boy.
It was a very satisfying job. Our total ‘on scene’ time was 11 minutes. And 4 of that was waiting for Dad to get changed. I felt very proud of my actions as lead clinician, and my crew mate and ex-mentor high-fived me and bought me a coffee – the equivalent of a medal in the Ambulance Service 🙂
Our very next job was a drunk man on a park bench who said he couldn’t stand up, then, when we wheeled the stretcher to the park bench, promptly stood up and walked to it…….normal service resumed then.
*Cling film, believe it or not, is excellent for all burns: not only does it reduce infection, it prevents air getting to the exposed nerve endings and actually reduces pain! Definitely don’t be using butter/moisturiser/ice/anything else!