That one job…
Everyone who works in the emergency business has at least ‘one’ job. You know the one. The one which keeps coming back in your mind, even years after. The one that can keep you awake at night and make you question every step of the job and every decision you made.
Mine was several years ago.
It was an ordinary Saturday afternoon. Myself and my crewmate, Tony, had just cleared from a job. We were at a hospital not on our usual patch. To make the eventual comparisons more extreme we had just finished a job which had gone very well. An elderly male had collapsed. When we arrived we found he had collapsed due to a low heart rate. We were able to quickly resolve this with a drug (Atropine) to the point where he looked 100% better, no longer pale and drenched with sweat, and was happily talking to us and his relieved family. It was a happy family in the ambulance as we took him to the Emergency Department for follow up treatment.
We cleared the job and were passed ‘that’ job.
It was a report of a teenage boy who had crashed a quad bike on farmland. This was before sat-nav or Google maps and was an area Tony and I were totally lost in. I contacted the control room and explained we were unfamiliar with the area and asked for backup from any available local crews. We were told there was no one else. By now Tony had plotted the best possible route on the A to Z map book and I set off, blue lights and sirens on. The farm was about 12 miles from where we were.
Soon after setting off we received an update from the control room: The boy was in cardiac arrest (no heartbeat, no breathing). His friend, who had called 999, was too distraught to attempt CPR by instruction from the call taker. We were still about 10 miles away, relying totally on Tony’s map reading ability. Any light-hearted banter immediately stopped and I started to feel that sinking feeling.
Miles passed and we were heading even further into the wilds toward the farm. The roads were becoming narrower and bendier so against my desire to get us there I had to slow down – we needed to get there in one piece to be any possible use. I made a turn as directed by Tony, concentrating on driving yet still mentally preparing for the job ahead, what equipment in what order to get from the ambulance. The road became narrower; trees were closing in on us on both sides. I started to doubt Tony’s choice of route, but then a police car closed in behind us, also with blue lights on, obviously heading to the same job, this reassured us both. Not for long though. The tarmac finally gave way to compressed mud, a steel bollard in the middle stopping any thoughts of pushing through.
A quick conference with the police officers and they managed to turn in the road and hurtle off to find another route. I wasn’t so lucky, had to reverse until I found a spot I could turn round in then set off again with Tony sweating once more over the A to Z. By this time control had found a local crew but asked us to carry on and back them up.
When we arrived the local crew were there and we could tell from their body language and lack of resuscitation activity it was not good news.
The boy had un-survivable injuries from his collision with a stone wall and was dead. It would have been futile attempting to resuscitate. By now his parents were there along with the parents of his friend. Our job now was to try and support the families. How exactly do you help someone who has just heard out of the blue that their child had been killed in an accident? That area of our training was and is a bit sketchy.
Later on that day and following days my mind was flooded with the ‘what ifs?’ What if we had known the area and got straight there? What if we had picked a better route and got there earlier? It goes on…
There was an internal enquiry, Tony and I were found to be totally blameless, anyone who didn’t know the area would have picked the same route we did and met the same steel bollard. That reassured me a bit but still couldn’t stop thinking that would in no way help the family of the boy. How does any parent get over the death of their child?
I was offered counselling by the service but foolishly declined – thought the best way to deal was to try and forget by just carrying on. We even carried on working that day without taking any time out.
A depression settled on me which affected my whole family but still I refused counselling and any professional help. Instead, once I actually realised there was a problem, I began a long process of self study and read many self-help books.
Many years have passed since that Saturday afternoon and I would say I have learned to deal with it. It is still etched in my memory in a way that very few jobs are (I normally can’t even remember details of jobs I did last week) but there is no sinking feeling or feeling of despair and guilt associated with the memory any more, just some residual guilt about the effect on my family. Maybe the healing process would have been quicker with professional help; probably would have been less damaging to my family. Maybe it was more thorough thanks to my long process of self helping, maybe all healing has to be done by yourself. Who knows? I certainly don’t. I feel strong now and able to cope with whatever the job throws at me, also able to help my colleagues by encouraging them to talk, talk and talk some more. Talking bad jobs over with your work mates really helps you to put things in perspective and reassures you that your decisions and treatments were sound and that you did the best you could. I would also strongly recommend anyone accepts the professional help offered.
I still wonder how the family are coping after all this time.