Wednesday, 3 June 2009


Day shift: Three calls; all by ambulance.

Stats: 1 Unwell baby; 1 Drug o/d; 1 Suicidal.

Been a while, hasn’t it? This post is overdue because I had a little ‘incident’ in the middle of the shift and it stopped me in my tracks, so apologies for my mysterious disappearance and no need to worry (if you are); I’m okay now.

The first call of the morning went Red1 as the details changed for a baby who was ‘not breathing’. I was on my way alone (there were no other resources yet available) to one of the worst kinds of call I can imagine as a solo. The location was a large student accommodation building – I’ve been there many times and every time I go the receptionist/security person hasn’t got a clue. Calls are made directly from the hundreds of little bedsits in the building and so nobody downstairs gets told, or seems to know an ambulance is coming. This situation will fall hard on them some day and I thought this call would be the one to do it.

I spent four minutes standing in the lobby with no clue as to the room I was required in. The security guy looked at me blankly and did nothing to help. Control had no other details, apart from the building name and that it was a possibly dead baby.

‘We have lots of children in here’, the man said to me.

I thought I would narrow it down when I asked him about infants but, surprisingly for student rooms, whole families were being accommodated too apparently – what were they studying; the British Social Security system?

Eventually I got a room number from Control after a call-back and asked to be taken directly to it. I was already stressed out thinking that this baby would have no chance of survival now that I’d been unable to help for too long, even though I was standing downstairs with the skills and equipment to do so.

To my horror, the stupid security guy picked up the phone and made a call instead.

‘Hello, did you call an ambulance?’

I was angry now. I knew the room number but didn’t know how to get there fast. He could have shown me the way immediately but now he was verifying the call origin and wasting even more time!

‘Can someone just show me the way please? I said – probably out louder than I should have.

Another man, who’d been standing watching the proceedings, took me to the lift and showed me to the correct floor. Then he led me to the door of the flat. I thanked him and knocked on it.

It was opened by a man who didn’t seem worried at all. I had to ask him three times to show me where the baby was. I expected to hear crying, wailing, shouting… anything but silence. Instead I walked into a small bedroom where two women stood in the corner and a cot occupied the middle of the floor. Absolutely nothing was being said or done.

I looked into the cot where a small baby lay very still. From a distance he could have been dead but his colour disputed that and so I tried gentle stimulus by rubbing his chest and arms. He moved immediately, gurgled a bit and opened his little eyes. He was breathing and had been breathing all along. For some reason I will never understand, the parents and grandmother were nowhere near him and no attempt was, or had as far as I know, been made to establish whether he was dead or alive. They’d simply heard him breathing noisily and the 999 call had become crazily complicated after that.

None of us like being put in a position where the life of a child is at risk, especially when we work alone but the situation isn’t helped by this strange behaviour (which I think is cultural to a degree) and the obvious lack of proper communication from start to finish on the call – not necessarily a call-taker’s fault but when asked ‘is he breathing?’ I can see this father whipping up a frenzy just because he doesn’t know what the question means.

The baby was floppy, so he was unwell but his life wasn’t in the balance and he had recently been diagnosed with an infection. A crew arrived to take him away and the parents went along. Again, nothing was said and I had to ask the mother to carry her own baby. I'm sorry but sometimes I feel that, in some cultures, children are more of a commodity than anything else.

I was asked to check out a call for a 24 year-old man who was ‘bumping into things’ in the street, so I travelled up the road about a mile and found him with the police at his side. It was obvious that he’d taken something and was definitely not with it. Alcohol wasn’t in the equation; he was off his head. He couldn’t stand straight and he’d apparently walked in front of a bus when the police arrived. He had no clue where he was… or who he was. He gave his name as Brian, even though he was the most unlikely looking Brian I’d ever met. When he didn’t answer to that name later on and was reminded that he’d given us it, he simply looked at us and said ‘whatever’.

He insisted on ‘having a crap’ as he politely put it. In fact he was crouching in the street to defecate in front of us and had to be hauled up and reprimanded a couple of times by the cops.

The crew arrived after I’d originally cancelled them and then thought better of having him in the back of the car with me, so they were lumbered with the problem. I felt guilty. For a short time.

A 33 year-old homeless man threatened to throw himself into the river unless someone took him to Brighton, where his parents were. He was at his wit's end, he told me as the police stood around him, and he didn’t want to go on with his life. I asked him what he thought it would be like for me and my colleagues if we fished him out of the river. I asked him to consider how we could take such a thing home with us.

He backed down and changed his mind but I was still left with the problem of what to do with him. He had mental health problems and was bipolar. He was an alcoholic and had real health issues too but he hadn’t done anything wrong, so he wasn’t going to be arrested. Neither could he be left where he was because he would probably have seen through his threat after he’d forgotten what I’d said. There was no other option but to have him sectioned for his own safety and so I explained to him that he was going to hospital and that the police officer was going to let him know where he stood.

This decision hadn’t been made lightly and I had been on scene for almost 30 minutes before going ahead with it. He needed to be assessed and the only way to do that was to get him to hospital whether he wanted to go or not.

After that, its all a blur and, as I said, my shift ended abruptly.

Be safe.


ViatorT said...

Hope the abrupt end isnt too sinister, and hasnt knocked you too bad!
What sort of training do you get to deal with sucicides and 'jumpers'?

AnalogueAndy said...

Ditto that. Abrupt, blur incident don't sound at all like you.

Hope all is well


Xf said...


Not enough. It's often down to age and experience when talking to someone in that state of mind.