One autumn afternoon, Tony and I had just cleared at a local hospital and were hoping to be RTB’d (Returned to Base) for meal. Instead, with its usual irritating bleep, the data terminal announced another job for us. It was a few streets away and was a reported heroin overdose, possibly more than one patient; the caller was too agitated and panicking for our call taker to clearly get all the details, but possibly the patient was not breathing. This is the thing with heroin, as with all opiates such as morphine, as well as being excellent pain relievers they act on the cardiac and respiratory systems to reduce the respiratory effort, ultimately causing respiratory arrest which if left untreated rapidly leads to cardiac arrest – death.
We were on the street within minutes. Unfortunately we weren’t 100% sure which house number we were going to. The caller had been hysterical and shouting making it hard for our call taker to understand clearly what he was saying. Our call taker said to try number 51, that’s what it sounded like. The caller had ended the call and wasn’t answering when our call taker tried to ring back. We knocked at number 51 – no reply. By now we were joined by Stuart, a paramedic on the response car. We waited for control to listen to the tape recording of the call to have another attempt at interpreting the address (all calls to the service are recorded and it has often been proved useful to get vital information on a second or third listen).
As we waited, a man further down the street popped out of the door and started waving and shouting frantically. It was number 31. We quickly moved the vehicles and Tony and I grabbed the equipment we needed for resuscitation. Stuart followed us in.
As always seems to be the case when you need to act quickly, the house was cramped and the room we needed was hidden by the open front door so we had to enter one at a time and close the front door behind us to get in the bedroom before the next one could open the front door get in.
I was in now. Instantly I had a flash back to training school where as part of the training for resuscitation we set up scenarios for each other and as we got the hang of the resuscitation procedure we would make the scenarios more ‘interesting’ with multiple casualties and confined spaces.
One patient, a lad in his mid twenties was asleep on a single bed near a window. He was breathing but only occasionally and his lips were blue. A male aged approximately 50 was on the floor next to the bed and was in cardiac arrest. The man who had called us down the street was doing chest compressions on him. A third patient was in the doorway, also in cardiac arrest. There were needles and syringes scattered over the floor.
Stuart updated control and requested two more ambulances as I managed to shake the patient who was breathing occasionally and wake him up enough to breathe normally. Then I took over the resuscitation of the 50 year old, with assistance from the man doing chest compressions. Tony and Stuart started to work on the third patient. I also had to keep an eye on the sleepy lad, make sure he didn’t fall back asleep unnoticed and stop breathing. I could reach him with my outstretched leg as I was resuscitating my patient so every so often I had to kick him to wake him up. All the while we were working we had to be very careful not to injure ourselves on any of the discarded needles scattered around the room. Luckily the service wasn’t too busy that afternoon and the backup crews arrived quickly.
The first crew took over the resuscitation of the patient in the doorway and moved him out of the door. The next crew took the sleepy patient so then Tony and I could concentrate on my 50 year old patient.
Despite the initial chaos, the job flowed smoothly. We had all three patients out of the house and in hospital within about 20 minutes from first arriving on scene. The sleepy patient survived and was discharged from hospital that afternoon. Sadly the two cardiac arrest patients died. What made the job more poignant was that the 50 year old patient was not a regular heroin user – today on a whim he’d decided to try it for the first time because his friend was a user – first and last time. The man who had tried to help with the resuscitation had supplied the sample for the three of them. Because our patient had never used before, his ‘friend’ the supplier had actually injected it for him. The last I heard he was arrested and being tried for manslaughter.
After this we did eventually get RTB’d for meal break – a somber and reflective meal break.