I spent ten days near the town of Bakewell at the beginning of August being the medic for a kids' summer camp. While on a visit to the town, I saw this sign in a small newsagent's shop.
Night shift: Seven calls; one declined; one assisted-only and five by ambulance.
Stats: 1 Abdo pain; 1 Chest pain; 1 Allergic reaction; 1 DIB; 1 Unconscious ETOH; 1 Assault with minor injuries.
Abdominal pain and fainting are kindred spirits and my first call, to a 67 year-old with those afflictions had an infection. She was passing loose stools and feeling unwell. Her past history of CVA had little to do with her current problem.
Up north, a cyclist is asked for help by a man clutching his chest. The cyclist dismounts and the man collapses in the street. I arrive on scene thinking I might have to start CPR because a mini-crowd has gathered and it all looks too dramatic but the man is conscious. The cyclist tells me all he knows but the patient doesn’t speak to me, even though I know he can because my cyclist friend has confirmed this. The man with the chest pain lies there, looking at me and wincing every now and then. He’s pale and clammy and I still think he’s going to arrest in front of me but there’s something under the skin of it all that tells me he’s not as sick as he makes out.
When the crew arrive and we get him onto the vehicle, he becomes Mr. Chatty from Chattyland, Chattyville. What’s that all about? He’s an Irishman on a visit and he’s an alcoholic. He says he hasn’t been drinking though. How many alcoholics tell us they haven’t touched the stuff? Seems like a paradox to me. He’s friendly now and I set off to find more excitement in my world as the crew prepare him for hospital.
The neighbour of a 45 year-old woman who was suffering an acute allergic reaction to chocolate was shocked to find her standing, wheezing and puffed up, at her door. I arrived within five minutes of the call and she was sitting on a sofa looking much better than the description given. She was recovering and had her Epipen handy, although she hadn’t used it. Self-resolving anaphylaxis is unstable because it can kick in again at any time, so she was taken to hospital with adrenaline on stand-by.
If you thought Ipods were only for the young, you are sadly mistaken. I’ve got one for a start…but my 77 year-old cricket-expert patient with lung cancer and acute DIB also owned one. The lovely man looked sad as he was taken away from his home, where he lives alone among his almanacs and whisky. His classical and jazz favourites are stored on a couple of Gigs of hard drive and he made sure it came with him. He is a true gentleman of his generation and he’s now getting too ill to cope with his stiff upper lip.
The cops waited for me over the apparently lifeless body of a Polish alcoholic and I pulled up to see his equally alcoholic friend gesticulating his concern as his mate passed the time on the pavement.
No matter what I did, the man wouldn’t wake up, although he did respond. Every now and then, with deep pain, he’d lift his head…that was it. I could tell that he was an expert at playing possum and incredibly, he’d become completely accustomed to our pinches, rubs, shouts and needles. It’s a lifestyle, I suppose.
The crew fared no better and once I’d hooked him up for fluids, he was carted off to the sanctuary for alcoholism that is St. Thomas’ hospital. It’s shameful that such a famous institution has been downgraded by society’s lowest rung.
On the way off the ambulance, as his trolley bed was moved across the ramp, he took the time to wake up momentarily, life his head and spit onto the floor. He knew where he was, he knew who we were and he knew what he was doing. It’s not even clever.
A 31 year-old female was allegedly assaulted in a club in Soho and I was asked to attend because she had grazes and broken nails! The ambulance crew arrived, rushed out and one of them said ‘we heard there were broken nails involved, so we got here as fast as we could’. Hey, it’s a chuckle in amongst the pain, isn’t it? Anyway, the woman didn’t want an ambulance; the police had called us as a matter of routine.
I met the new frequent flyer with psychiatric problems again tonight. He calls us with spurious reasons for needing an ambulance, this time it was ‘fainting’. He came out of the callbox when I pulled up and sat, in his usual place, in the back of the car. I called the Street Rescue people about getting him off the street because now I recognised his real problem and I genuinely want to help him. I also want to stop him calling ambulances because this was the fourth time he’d dialled 999 today I learned.
The crew weren't happy to see him because they had taken him to hospital earlier and now wished they were doing something useful. I could see their point but we had to do something with him. I offered him the chance to go to another hospital but he wasn’t interested and suddenly changed his mind about it all. I gave him a blanket and sent him to a doorway so that he could sleep safely. I would see him again all too soon.