Sunday 19 May 2013

Closed Doors

"83 year old female, collapsed behind closed doors" 

It was a long winter. The dark seemed to last forever, the cold seemed to bite eternally the feeling of being cooped up seemed never ending. But hey, this is England. If we can't bitch about the weather, what can we do. The reason I mention it, is because I feel it may have contributed to the events that followed. 

'Collapsed behind closed doors' is an unnerving situation. A lot of the time you have no idea what lies beyond the door, thus serving its purpose! Still though, day or night, doors must be kicked in to get to someone who may be dead or alive on the other side. Today was the same uncertainty and the same vague details. All we knew was that there was a lady, behind a door, that her daughter couldn't get to. 

We were met at the day by the worried looking daughter. She had been out all afternoon and when she'd got back her was in her room, door locked and not responding to the knocking. She also 'never locked her room'. We went thought the motions of knocking and shouting but to no avail. My crew mate called control and requested the police. Meanwhile I was trying to peer through the key hole but couldn't make anything out. It was an old house and the doors weren't perfectly straight so the was a small gap at the bottom. I laid down and put my cheek to the floor. In that single moment my heart rate doubled and I could feel the adrenaline pouring through my body. About 3 feet from the door, lying facedown on the floor was our patient. 

"We need to get in now!" 

My crewmate took a sizeable shoulder barge at the door but just bounced off it. He the kicked, and kicked, and kicked some more. After about 5 hits the door swung open. I rolled her onto her bad, her eyes were closed, she wasn't breathing, but she was still warm. She was linked up to our machines and there was signs that her heart still had some activity going on. Due to that, and the fact the distraught daughter was screaming for us to do something we started the resus. We called control back and said that this was now a working resus and we needed more resources. 

After 1 shock her started beating again, unfortunately, this was short lived and within a minute or so we were doing CPR again. As the resuscitation moved on it became apparent we weren't going to be successful. The a bin was put next to me by my crew mate. Inside the 100s of tablets she had presumably taken. A glance around the room left reveals a suicide note to her daughter. It was unanimously agreed after we'd exhausted our protocols to cease our efforts and confirm her passing. 

Her daughter was beside herself with grief and guilt. I sat in the kitchen with her whilst she read the letter over and over. I also read it and it really was heart breaking stuff. She had lived a full life, a life of adventure, a life of many tales, but that was a life she had shared with her beloved husband. She explained she simply couldn't live without him anymore. She had her enthusiasm for life had died with him and she could no longer go on being a burden on her daughter. When you read words like 'seeing you grow into the woman you have become fills me with immense pride and joy' was touching to read but little comfort to her daughter. 

I don't know why, but I suppose I associate suicide with younger generations but depression is all to common in the elderly. It's often dismissed as part of being old and the anti depressants are handed out like smarties by GPs. Behind the tablets though the real people. Real people who are not coping with the loss of independence. Not coping with the loss of life long soul mates and not coping with having to impose on their children's lives. As she said, her enthusiasm had gone, and if you take that away from
any of, all that is left behind is apathy. In her mind she wasn't living the life that she had always stood for. The joy and adventure had gone. I suppose she realised that she didn't want to live her final years with apathy and sadness. It did make me think. When the time comes, do I want to go on my own terms when it's right for me. Probably. 

I have no doubt it was a decision that she agonised over for a long time. I'm sure she was well aware of the pain and hurt she'd cause her daughter but it was what she needed to do, for her. At 83, who is to argue when she says 'that's my lot'. 

"Nobody grows old merely by living a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul" 
           - Samuel Ullman


  1. sad but powerful post. i hope youre ok ella. must be tough to see this much sadness daily.

  2. I was widowed at 43, and it felt like my life had been stolen. I felt like there was nothing to live for, lost and alone. I never considered taking my own life, but understand why people do. I was lucky enough to read Death And How To Survive It by Kate Boydell. The book, written by a young widow made me feel less alone, and the Merrywidow website that she runs offered the support I needed and I am happy to say that I made many friends both cyber and real life from this group.

    It is sad that so little support is available outside of the internet, and by default it seems the elderly widows/widowers are the ones that are left adrift.

  3. I think that I may have mentioned this one before. And it happened again to me today. Ambulance control inform our control that an 83year old female has fallen inside her own address and they made need assistance gaining entry. Obviously I don't have sight of the Ambo log nor do I know exactly what has been said to the call taker, but when I turn up to find the door wide open and no sign of an ambulance I do feel a little aggrieved. This is probably the fourth time in the last year that I have attended an elderly person behind closed doors only to find the door either open or unlocked and certainly accessible by the attending ambulance crew. On three of these occasions I have got there first. It is almost as if the call takers are doing triage by Police. Anyway, today the FRU were still some time in attending, but there was a neighbour who was at the address with a friend (funny enough the original caller - who states that she informed Ambo control that she was in the address, having gained entry). We managed to get the elderly lady to her feet (I know I'm not trained, but she was sat on the kitchen floor for however long and I didn't fancy just spectating). Once in her comfy chair I applied a dressing to a minor abrasion on her shin and awaited the FRU. Job well done as far as me and the FRU are concerned but what a waste of a police resource checking that a door was in fact open. Rant over.

  4. Beautifully written. The care for your job and your patients is apparent in every word you write.

  5. After five years of volunteering as a listener for Samaritans and 1 week into my career with the ambulance service, this blog told a story I am only too familiar with. It certainly was beautifully written, and thank you for telling it so well - even though it made me cry!


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