Saturday 16 March 2013


"Am I going to die?" she said softly. 

How do you answer that? I'm a terrible liar at the best of times but in situations like this I can be read like a book. That said, as much as I am able to tell someone that their loved one has died, I couldn't bring myself to tell someone they are going to die. Maybe my eyes told the whole story but my words didn't. They simply didn't answer the question.

"Stay calm, we are going to get you out of here and off to hospital."

With that, I rested the blood stained oxygen mask back over her face knowing all too well this would be her last few minutes. She closed her eyes. It was chaos around me. Every emergency service, a sea of blue flashing lights and rain. Heavy rain. I was in the car with Claire. I had climbed in through the boot, clambered to the back seats and then through the front of the car. Claire was trapped in the mangled wreckage of her car. There was no quick exit, the oak tree was where the drivers seat should be. Claire was where the gear stick should be, I was in the gap that was left. I followed health and safety procedures in that I had a high-vis jacket on and a helmet. The visor quickly steamed up and due to it's size I couldn't move. The helmet came off. It was just me and Claire in the car. Getting her out wouldn't be down to me, I'd just be the passenger in all this.

9 minutes earlier......

"RTC Car vs Tree, 54 year old female, trapped"

It was about 10pm and the weather was grim. I didn't relish this job at all but off we went. Strangely, we were first on scene. The second we turned the bend I could see the headlights through the mist of the rain pounding on the floor. That one image was all I needed....

"Red base, can we have Fire, Police and HEMS please."

"Roger, on way"

It's not often I request everything without assessing the patient but the car was on a blind bend, the car was quite literally wrapped around the tree and from the damage I could see from 10ft this patient would not have escaped serious injury. Within seconds the police and fire rounded the corner blocking road in both directions and I headed over to the car. The passenger door wouldn't open, nor would the back door but the boot was open so in I went. I got oxygen on her but she panicked with the mask. I tried to fit a collar on her but she panicked. I held her hand and assured her we would help her. She was pale, blood was pouring out of a wound of her head, her arm and leg were clearly broken and she couldn't breathe. I managed to get a cannula in her hand but she ripped it out. Bugger. She squeezed my hand tightly and starred at me. It's a look I will never forget and one that will stay with me for my entire life. That I am sure of.

"Am I going to die?" she said softly. 

"Stay calm, we are going to get you out of here and off to hospital."

As we were........

The fire brigade were working tirelessly around the car to get her out. The sawing, the banging, smashing and shouting drowned out my voice. 

"Claire, Claire, open your eyes!" I shouted. 

Another face appeared in the back of the car. It was my crew mate. 

"Claire, open your eyes!"

I felt for a radial pulse. Nothing. I felt for a carotid pulse. Nothing. It was the first time in my career I didn't know what to do. I felt helpless. Do I start CPR? I'm just going to pump the little blood that's left in her body out. I turned to my crew mate, we had a brief discussion of her injuries and decided any resus attempt was pointless. The fire brigade were about 15 minutes away from freeing her, that was too long to make any resus worthwhile. I started CPR though, I felt I had to. My crew mate spoke to our clinical support who agreed that we could stop. Then I stopped. Stopping is strange feeling. In my heart I knew she was gone but it's against our instincts to stop and walk away. I wish i'd known when she closed her eyes, eyes full of fear and pain, that it would be the last time. 

I clambered out backwards. Numb about what had happened. Claire. That's all I knew about her and in reality, all I will ever know. 

The other cold, harsh reality is that now I had to do paperwork for us and the police. Then, without much further ado and moping around I'd have to press that magic green button and go and do another 5 or 6 jobs before bed time. And that is what we did. It doesn't mean Claire wouldn't enter my thoughts but realistically it wouldn't be until I'm lying in the dark, staring at my ceiling, that I will have a chance to spare her a proper thought.

"22 year old female, headache, nauseous, states has run out of paracetamol"

C'est la vie.

1 week later......

You know when people die at the road side, tributes are left by friends and family to mark the spot where a tragedy occurred? Be it someone run over or victims of a crash there are always tributes left behind. I often see them at places where me or my colleagues have been or what is reported in the paper. It's a constant reminder of what happened, it triggers memories, evokes emotions and shows what someone has left behind. 

We were driving along the very road where Claire's time had come to an end. I slowed down as I rounded the corner and the tree came into view. The tree stood proud and tall. If you didn't know any better you wouldn't know that a Ford Focus had been wrapped around it 8 days previous. There was no debris, no fragments of glass, no nothing. 

No flowers. No memory. 


  1. Beautiful blog. Touched me greatly as today I was contacted by the mother of a 28yr old female I failed to save.

  2. Beautifully written as always of the few bloggers that can bring me close to tears on a regular basis. If only there were more Ellas in the world x

  3. That's very sad. It must be difficult to cope with, knowing you couldn't really do anything for her. But at least she wasn't alone.

  4. Oh no! That is really sad, I would hate to think that she didn't have anyone to care for her or to miss her.

  5. Oh :( I think it is a very rotten system that doesn't allow you paramedics some decompression or diffusion time after dealing with someone dying.

  6. I'm a new reader of your blog and what a post to start on.

    I can't imagine what it must be like to be in that situation, and you write so evocatively.

    I am glad Claire had you with her in her last moments.

  7. A beautiful account Ella. It's so difficult to stand by and do nothing sometimes, even though everyone knows there is no other way. It goes against everything drilled into you on training and reinforced in practice. The most difficult job I've ever done emotionally was a DNAR patient who was right at the end, and all we could do was watch them slip away quietly. We were lucky enough not to have any more jobs that night, I wouldn't envy you having to work the rest of your shift after that.

  8. Well done darlin,
    It's a horrible situation to be in and endure. I hope you take comfort and pride in the fact that Claire knew she wasn't alone when her time came. Although surrounded by fear, you were there and held her hand and comforted her as she died.
    I usually rate my colleagues on who i would want to come to me or my family in desperate times and who i wouldn't, and you...i definetely would.

    In the wee, small hours, when visiting with the visions of patients passed, try to take pride and honour in the knowledge that for each did what you could, We're only human


  9. Such a heartfelt piece. I can't even imagine what it feels like.

    All I can offer is that my family, my friends, would not put flowers there for me, should it happen to me. I don't want it, they wouldn't want to do it.

    Claire is remembered and missed. Of that I have no doubt. The brief kindness you were able to show her before she died will, I believe, have been balm to her soul at that moment.

    Thank you for being there and doing what you do.

  10. As a Police officer I regularly work with the ambulance service. The work you guys do is amazing. How you have the time to craft such descriptive, emotive and insightful blogs as well as to work the hours you do and have a family life amazes me.
    Keep up the good work.

  11. This post made me cry but thank you for sharing.

  12. At work and trying not to cry! Beautifully written x

  13. Lovely. You brought out and said what we all feel. It is a horrid situation and the only way to make it better is to let them know they are not alone.

  14. Thank you so much for sharing this. Surely the fact that she did not die alone, and that she was touched by human kindness in her last moments, means a great deal to her and her loved ones. It's amazing to think that emergency personnel, like soldiers, go through these profound, wrenching experiences and then have to move on to the next job a few minutes later. Your strength and your enduring humanity are pretty damn inspirational.

  15. You were able to give her the most precious gift, a hand to hold in her moment of need, her moment of uncertainty, and her moment of passing. Everyone should be as lucky. She knew you cared for her, would help her anyway you could, even if it was as she passed on. And as for there being no flowers or memorial, I believe this post is greater than any road side memorial, hundreds now know that there was a woman named Claire, and that although she died in tragedy she also lived. And to be remembered, even if it is by strangers or the medical personal who tried to help is better than not telling her story at all. I still remember my first patient to pass, it is something you don't forget.

  16. I, too, wanted to thank you for sharing this. I worked in EMS for 15 years and have several calls that came to mind when I read this, most notably, the one that I wrote about here:

    Writing about these calls can be a sort of salve, a bit of catharsis. I hope the replies in response to your beautifully written and haunting post help to shore you up for your next Tour of Duty. I also want to gently challenge your notion of there being "no flowers, no memory" at the crash site... You have remembered Claire. I will remember Claire. There are several people who have been touched by your writing that will also remember Claire. And, in my faith and line of thinking, even the tree's spirit will remember not only Claire, but your actions and efforts to save her life. Each of us who know about Claire now carry a little flower of remembrance of her within ourselves. We may not remember why this particular "Soul Flower" blossomed when we read your post, looking back, a year or two or ten from now... But it is there. And when we get to the Other Side... We'll meet a woman's Spirit, who once lived in a body that others knew as "Claire"... And we will remember in that moment.

    You have planted flowers to honour her passing and memory. You have created memories of her that are lasting. And if you could hear the Spirit of the Tree... I think you'd hear in it's rustling leaves... "I remember".

    Hugs to you. Keep fighting the valiant fight. Rest easy, knowing that sometimes it's our turn, other's it's Death's, and ultimately, though it may piss us off or disappoint us (to say the least), sometimes that's the right outcome - even when we don't understand it. We need people like you, who have a heart, and a genuine desire to help humanity any way you can.


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