Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Unhappy Valentine

This is Jack. He is a police sniffer dog and works for the British Transport Police. I met him when I visited a police friend of mine for a coffee and a chat (obviously the coffee and chat weren't with Jack). He is looking away, despite being asked to smile because he is looking at his master. These dogs only have eyes for one person - their handlers. Stroke him all you want but don't be carrying drugs when you do it!

Five emergency calls; one cancelled on scene, one treated on scene and three taken by ambulance.

An over the top response for a twisted ankle on Valentine’s Day and my shift was just kicking off. The call had come through as a RTC involving a vehicle and a pedestrian. The caller had obviously got excited about the injury and had created more scope for a 999 call. The lady could have hopped to hospital – she certainly didn’t need a FRU and an ambulance with bells and whistles. What is happening to society? Where is our sense of self-reliance and responsibility? What happened to common sense? It’s bad enough to hear that this man is suing a bookmaker for millions because they didn’t try to stop him gambling all his money away!

The 24 year-old who should have known better was taken to hospital and the ambulance was tied up for at least an hour because of a simple sprained ankle, if indeed it was even that bad.

Epileptics in trouble certainly need an ambulance and so my next call, to a 41 year-old who was fitting at work felt like a genuine mission. He was post ictal when I arrived; very confused, pale, sweaty and determined to get off the floor but his colleagues and a nurse (who just happened to work for a private clinic in the office on the next floor) were there to gently restrain him.

I knew he would be fully recovered in twenty minutes or so and all I had to do was carry out my obs a couple of times and monitor him until he improved enough to make a decision about going (or not) to hospital. Most don’t.

His wife had been contacted and I spoke to her on the ‘phone. She told me she would come and take him home, as she usually does when he has a fit. This was his first in six months and she knew exactly what to do, so I agreed with her plan. She warned me that he may fit again, so I kept a close eye on him while I waited but he just got better.

The crew arrived and waited with me until his wife got there and he was able to leave with her. He had fallen hard onto the floor and when he became more lucid, he started to complain of severe shoulder pain. He may have pulled a muscle or fractured a bone, so he was advised to go with the crew to hospital and get it checked.

You know I like to keep you apprised of my idlings when on stand by, so here’s what I got up to whilst sitting in the car waiting for my next call. For the first time in my life I bothered to notice that the flashing lights on those zebra crossing posts never seem to go out. I mean, I’ve never personally seen them NOT flashing. That means that there is someone, somewhere whose job it is to either cruise around monitoring them for function, or to replace the bulb when a fault is reported (by whom I don’t know – like I said, I’ve never seen one out of order but I’m not so sad as to call it in if I did).

I took the opportunity to calculate the number of times these bulbs flash (I had nothing better to do and I knew you’d be very interested…except for my foreign readers who may not even know what I’m talking about). I counted 48 flashes per minute – so they flash 2,880 times per hour, 69,120 times per day…a staggering 25, 228,000 times each year (25, 297,920 in a leap year if you’re interested). Pretty damned good bulbs. Probably Japanese.

My next call was cancelled when I arrived on scene. A 65 year-old with chest pain was being assisted by an ambulance crew and I wasn’t really required but I helped them with bits and pieces. I might as well be of some use on scene, I thought.

A stupid young man who thinks he’s got everyone’s illnesses brought me into a small flat on an estate in the north. His sister shook her head as he moaned about chest pain, then food poisoning, then allergic reactions he has to every food on earth.

‘He’s lying’, she said.

I considered the possibility that he was an attention seeker then I thought about mental illness, which can never be ruled out, even in a 21 year-old. His mother stood by but she said almost nothing. She looked fed up.

When the crew arrived, he told them a completely different story to the one he had reported to me. ‘I’m standing right here!’ I thought.

I heard his sister tutting every now and again and I felt her embarrassment.

The crew took him to hospital, despite finding absolutely nothing wrong with him (physically at least) and his suffering sister went with him. There was no hand-holding and no sympathy.

A local job next (well, local to my station). A 35 year-old female had been found unconscious in the ladies' toilets of a restaurant. Staff had found her and they reckoned she must have been there for about two hours, although that would mean nobody went to the loo in all that time or that they completely ignored the lifeless body in the cubicle.

When I arrived, I got cancelled for a nearer vehicle. The MRU was on scene but I knew that he would need help if this was what I thought it was. The call was given as a query overdose because there was a ‘needle hanging out of the arm’. This sort of eye-witness fact lends credence to the nature of the call and, unless the needle was a piece of jewelry, this patient had more than likely taken heroin.

I let Control know that I was going to help and once inside I found my colleague struggling to manage the limp body of a young woman who was bent inside a cramped space. He asked me to get my BVM (bag-valve-mask) and I knew he had found her either not breathing or breathing so inefficiently that she couldn’t survive. Heroin does that – it depresses breathing and enough of it can kill very quickly. This addict had injected so much of the stuff into her vein that she didn’t even have time to remove the needle and syringe from her arm – she had just slumped into unconsciousness. It can’t be worth the money she paid for it.

When I returned with my BVM, the MRU medic had given narcan to reverse the effects of the drug. If it worked, she would start breathing normally and recover to consciousness. It’s a cheap way to save a life.

The ambulance crew arrived as I was preparing to help with the possible resuscitation of this woman but before we had to go that far, she began to show signs of life – her breathing improved. A few moments later she opened her eyes and looked around, bewildered. She had such a look of surprise that you would be forgiven for thinking she had just unwrapped a Christmas present and found an old pair of socks.

‘What happened?’ she croaked.

‘You overdosed and nearly died’, my colleague replied.


My colleague repeated what he said but she shouted back at him.


She couldn’t hear him. He raised his voice, as did we all but she plainly had great difficulty hearing. At first we thought she may have taken some bad drugs – we have been told of dodgy stuff going round and it causes problems like this, but she told me that she was a ‘little deaf’ anyway. A little deaf? She was very deaf. It crossed my mind that she might want to try swapping her heroin addiction for a hearing aid.

She was a petite woman, about five feet nothing and thin (they all are eventually) and she looked very vulnerable. She wasn’t the ‘usual’ kind of addict; she was less harsh than the others tend to be (I’m sure we’ll be banned from stereotyping druggies soon) and looked almost innocent in her predicament.

She told us she’d just been released from prison. This was the second time in a few months that I have dealt with a young female who had overdosed in a public place within a day of being released from Her Majesty’s B&B. I thought drugs were easy to come by inside but there is obviously a rush to get to them on the outside. Maybe women’s prisons are stricter.

She was gobsmacked that she had nearly topped herself, albeit by accident.

‘Oh God. I took too much, didn’t I?’ she said without a sob or an ounce of real feeling. She said it the way you would say ‘I overcooked the chicken, didn’t I?’

The staff member who had discovered her saved her life and we put in the hard work to ensure she could go out and get wrecked on drugs again sometime soon. I felt no satisfaction about that and my colleagues, some of whom have been doing this job a lot longer than me, looked resigned to this state of affairs. None of us will change the world but I would like to retire someday with a sense of having achieved something. I won’t be doing it as a frontline paramedic ‘narcing’ drug addicts, that’s for sure.

When she fully recovered we let her go. She wasn’t interested in going to hospital and she would have walked out on the medical staff anyway. She would have been a waste of good paper and ink. This is unfortunate because, without the drug habit, she would probably have been a useful member of society. She didn’t appear to be stupid and her deafness gave her a vulnerability that merited care and attention. Still, she was more interested in finding her boyfriend. It was the day for lovers after all. He was apparently waiting for her outside somewhere. He wouldn’t be pleased because she had just used up his share of the drugs too.

We watched her wander off, to and fro, trying to spot her mate. She walked past us.

‘I can’t find my boyfriend’, she lamented.

None of us were surprised. She’d been stitched up. He probably cared less for her than he did about his love affair with the brown stuff. Soon enough, she was gone and we were forgotten. I hope never to see her again but if I don’t it will only be because she has moved, gotten clean or died.

Be safe.


Anonymous said...

I've just come back from the West of Ireland, driving down to my folks, listening to a radio show, i heard something that no radio station in this county, i'd wager, would touch with a 10 foot pole

A show with a doctor, answering medical questions, honestly, and not with about 40 caveats protecting themselves from legal action- not once did he mention those immortal words - call an ambulance - and he dealt with farm worker trauma/epistaxis of 30 minutes in a warfarin taking hypertensive..i could go on, but you get the idea - it was always get a friend / family member or taxi or he gave practical advice, like see a doctor this week... Yes i am fully aware before some writes that someone may have had something serious, but to be honest, not many people do, and i really think people know when its really serious. You can't tell me that when the transport system in London was being bombed, and the amount of calls to LAS dropped significanty, that people were miraculously not ill that day

**oh god, all the relaxation of Western Ireland has been undone...lol**

Tabitha said...

Oh god, druggies. You showed more patience than I could have done, good thing I don't do your job! (Sorry, I'm in a bad mood - just got back from seeing a drug-taking, smoking friend who had the gall to tell me losing weight is bad for my health.)

Still, at least you didn't have to clean up oyster-related vomit - that was my last valentine's day!

Anonymous said...

You have rubbish zebra crossing lights in London! Ours flash 49 times a minute so HA!

sobriety sucks said...

Possibly the stuff she was getting in prison wasn't as good as the stuff she gets outside?
Here's a crazy idea:
Prescribe her a day's worth at a time. She can't sell it, cos she'd need to buy more. She pays £6 a day instead of £25, so she doesn't need to sell herself or mug grannies to pay for her fix. She won't OD and waste everyone's time. She can plan when to take her fix so she could hold time either a full or part time job. It'd be about the same as a 20-a-day smoking habit in terms of effect and cost. Most of the peripheral damage done by heroin is done with the cutting agents and poor hygiene, not the drug itself. See how fast Afghanistan would calm down if they were selling their major cash crop to the British Govt, instead of fighting them to defend it.
(not sarcastic, serious) can someone please point out if/where there's something wrong with this plan ?

Sober 17 days and counting.