Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Dead man walking

Nine emergencies – one false alarm and eight by ambulance.

Back on earlies for the weekend and it starts with a 40 year-old female who has fainted ‘? Stopped breathing’. The call was 4.5 miles away and reaching my target time would be impossible. When I got there a crew were on scene anyway and the woman was breathing just fine, thank you very much. She had a UTI and not much else wrong with her. I dread to think about the driving risk I run going to some of these dead end calls but it’s all about the numbers, isn’t it?

Victoria bus station is a famous place for ‘unconscious’ calls. They usually turn out to be drunken alcoholics who have fallen down for a kip in the street. This one, a 40 year-old male, was no exception. He lay on is side, vomiting the contents of his stomach in thick, pus-coloured puddles on the pavement as people walked by. Some of them were shocked, a few were disgusted and a couple just ignored it. Not one of them cared to know why I was there. Bright yellow and invisible.

The man was Glaswegian, which meant he would take an immediate interest in where I was from and declare me an ally, whether I agreed to it or not. He complained bitterly about his life and his stomach pain, which was probably induced by the insult a gallon of alcohol caused to his digestive system. I want to say ‘serves you right’ but I’m a professional and I actually say ‘I’ll get an ambulance to take you to hospital’. The human in me; the tax-paying citizen in me is outraged at the sight of him as he writhes on the pavement. He is ill because of himself; others are ill through no fault of their own. Children get cancer for God’s sake. He has simply chosen to drink his way to oblivion and after he gets expensive hospital treatment, he will go and drown his medicines in more alcohol because he can’t stop now. His drugs will bypass and have literally no effect. He will never get better. A long diatribe, I know but at least it’s here and not on the street.

The crew arrived and he was picked up, walked to the ambulance and taken to the long-suffering hospital staff for care and attention. I gave him sympathy and ensured that he wasn’t dying but he was never going to be my friend.

All the waste from Friday night washes up on the beach of Saturday morning and my next call to a 30 year-old ‘unconscious on a bus’ (and we all know what that means) was a human litter-clearing exercise and no more.

‘Where is he?’ I asked as soon as I stepped on the bus.

‘Upstairs’, said the driver, pointing in the right direction (up).

I climbed the steps and saw nothing on the top deck. My eyesight may be getting worse but I was sure there were no animals of any description up here.

‘Sorry, where is he?’

‘He’s on that seat there’, the driver replied and he walked over and pointed towards the floor.

I followed his finger and saw a man folded over, like soggy toast, on the seat. His entire top half was hidden from sight until you walked up to the seat he occupied. I thought he might be dead. It was an extremely uncomfortable position to be sleeping in. His spine would be screaming for mercy, surely.

I prodded and pinched in the time-honoured fashion and eventually, the slumbering drunk awoke and sat upright, without a click or a creak from his back. He must be a gymnast, I thought. Or made of rubber.

‘Oh, I slept too long, didn’t I?’ he said as he coughed and spluttered his way out of the seat.

‘Yes, you did’, I confirmed and with that he walked himself off the bus, like it was a normal stop. He wobbled his way across the road with the words ‘try not to get knocked down’ ringing in his ears. I try to give road safety advice to all of my ‘drunk on a bus’ clients.

A 60 year-old woman with abdominal pain that was reported as chest pain and who had a history of CVA needed to go to hospital, despite her abdo problem because she had also fallen quite hard and knocked her head on a wooden table at home. She had a nasty bruise up there, above her eye and given her medical history (and age), it was prudent to get her examined properly.

Bizarre calls are less frequent than honest-to-goodness timewasters but my next one, for a male with a head injury and stab wounds had me alert to the possibility of a ‘real’ job. Alas, when I got on scene and eventually got into the house (police and a crew were already there), I found the EMT chatting to a pre-op transsexual about the colour of flowers he was using for the window box!

His ‘stab’ wound was nothing more than a self-harm scar which had healed long ago but he was claiming had occurred as the result of an assault the night before. The police didn’t buy the story and clearly the crew were too relaxed to be buying it either. He was clearly mad and didn’t know what story to tell us. He just wanted attention. He got it.

I left the scene but as I completed my paperwork, I watched as my colleague leaned out of the back door of the ambulance and patiently waited for him to finish his ciggie and join her for the trip to hospital or some other caring institution.

If you are a new reader, I’m quite sarcastic at times, please don’t get offended, it’s a personal valve for me. I really do care.

A red1 emergency for a person believed to be dead. No other details were given and I sped to the scene thinking that it would probably be as given and be tagged ‘purple plus’. The police were just parking up when I arrived and they had been given additional information that I hadn’t – the ‘dead’man had been chucked out onto the street when it was discovered he was alive. He declared that himself when the security man who found him lying, seemingly lifeless in a store room of an office building, shouted out for the police to be called (shortly after requesting an ambulance). On hearing this, the dreaming vagrant shot up, shouted abuse (which I can’t repeat ‘cos I don’t know what was said) and stamped around a bit.

He was bundled into the street as the cops arrived and one of the officers pointed to him and then looked at me as if to say ‘you’re wasting your time, mate’. I was, so I did my paperwork and left as soon as I could. The old man was busily packing up his cardboard bedding and every now and again, he would hurl abuse at some poor innocent passing by.

A fitting 30 year-old street person next. He collapsed outside a train station and I knew his face; he was a Polish man who’d been taken to hospital a few times for alcohol-induced fits. We’re going to see more and more of this unless our kids stop binge drinking.

He had burst his lip open and was bleeding onto the ground. Police were with him and they told me he had fitted twice. Now, he was very confused.

As the crew took him onto the ambulance, the police went through his bag looking for ID and evidence of drug use, if it applied. His rucksack contained an eclectic mixture of items, including a range of postcards ‘from London’, a set of cutlery and an obviously stolen pepper pot. This was his life – everything in that bag. I felt sorry for him but I tempered my sympathy, as usual, with the knowledge that he didn’t necessarily need to be in this position. I’ve been on the streets myself, remember, and I clawed my way out of it, as did my brothers and sisters. There is no excuse.

A local call for a pregnant 24 year-old whose waters had broken and who was now having contractions every five minutes…not that she was counting. I arrived to find her caring brother (who I’d mistakenly assumed was the baby's father) and mother at the flat. She was sitting on the edge of her bed, rocking with pain every so often.

I got her breathing under control and I taught her how to predict the contractions – very useful when you want to move them to the ambulance. I also got my delivery pack ready and she knew what that meant. I think her brother expected me to ask for towels or water or something because he hovered expectantly (sorry!).

After ten minutes with her, she was relaxing and even managed a smile when I suggested she name the baby after me. I told her that Stuart was a good Muslim name. Her mum agreed that it was. I find brazen cheek works wonders with people (if they have a sense of humour).

It didn’t come to that, though. She remained stable with no desire to push and the crew arrived to pluck her to the safety of a delivery suite. I followed in the car and gave her brother a lift while her mum stayed with her on the ambulance. That way, if she decided to give birth on the way, there would be plenty of hands on deck and only one male in sight – me.

That didn’t happen either. She made it all the way to hospital and when she got out of the ambulance, she winked at me and squeezed my hand a little longer than expected for a hand shake. No wonder she’s pregnant.

I wasn’t required for the last call of the shift. The 21 year-old man complaining of chest pain, radiating to his right arm, was being attended to by a crew when I arrived, so I left them to it and went back to base to sign off.

It’s March. Is it me or is time racing away like water?

Be safe.


Robin said...

I've been reading your blog for a while now, and find it really interesting, and like that you seem generally pretty respectful of people, even when they clearly stretch your compassion..!

I feel the need to point out that a transvestite is someone who cross dresses. The person described as "pre-op", if they wish to transition, is a transsexual, not a transvestite. And it's polite to refer to us with the pronouns fitting the presenting gender. (So for an MtF, "she" and for an FtM, "he".)

Best wishes

miss emma said...

It's not just you! time is really racing away! only two months til my exams and as today was my birthday, I really did realise how quickly time is passing!

But I am one year closer to being able to go for a 'rdie out'! (and I can drive so I will try and be careful!)

Thanks for a great post as usual and keep up the great work!

Anonymous said...

Time is *indeed* racing away!

I like your reminder mid-entry about sarcasm. It may be because we know each other in person, but when I read your blog (and when I read the book) I could actually hear in my head the tone with which you had said certain things - trés amusing at times, given that I'm somewhat sarcastic myself.

~ C

Xf said...


Thank you! MY typo has now been corrected and my manners sorted out. I've edited the paragraphs to comply with your directions. My confusion wasn't ignorance, I assure you, it was lack of time to think!

The presenting gender advice is very useful and I'll know to use it in future.


Anonymous said...

Just want to use this space to say a general thankyou to all you folk who work in the ambulance service. A good friend died yesterday as a result of a road accident. He would have died at the scene if it hadn't been for the ground and air ambulance crews, as it was he just made it to hospital. His girls at least can walk past the spot now without thinking that's where dad died. A small comfort in a sad affair. Thankyou. Take care Gill

Xf said...


I'm so sorry to hear of your friend's death. I hope you are ok but that his family are coping, especially.

Beyond that, there's not much to say. It's tragic when a life is lost like that.

PCSO Bloggs said...

Great blog. keep it up!

Japh said...

Now that I've been reading the blog for almost a year, I can actually visualise you rolling your eyes, shaking your head or letting out a sigh when you get your "favorite" calls.

We all know your favorite calls are the asleep on a bus calls.

I continue to love the blogs and sit on the edge of my seat for more.

Thanks a lot