Sunday 28 July 2013

Boredom, Terror and Celebration

Fate is a funny thing isn’t it?! I’m not a great believer in it. I’m pessimistic at the best of times so the thought that things happen for a reason is a little beyond my comprehension! I’m also as far from religious as can be, so the concept of a greater force intervening in life’s goings on isn’t something I buy into to. Personally, too much bad stuff happens in the world. There is just too much hurt and tragedy, but religion is not a debate  I'm going to get into at any point on here! Each to their own! The reason I brought it up, is that fate, by definition is the development of events outside a person's control, regarded as predetermined by a supernatural power. Obviously I don’t believe in it but sometimes, I’m left wondering. 

For the last few months, I’ve been working on the Fast Response Unit (FRU). It has been a change of pace and a new challenge but one that I've thoroughly enjoyed. Lone working and not having a crew mate to rely on and bounce ideas off has really helped me develop as paramedic. At times, it has been utterly terrifying, knowing the buck stops with you. The weight of expectation from the public, often at the greatest time of need can be daunting to say the least! But, with every tricky job that passed I found myself growing in confidence and stopped being daunted but the prospect of arriving on my own. 

On the FRU, there is a lot more downtime. 
'EMS Rule 10: EMS is extended periods of intense boredom, interrupted by occasional moments of sheer terror.'
We are only sent to the higher priority calls, so a lot of the time I’m sat on standby waiting. I have 3 or 4 places I hide out but today I fancied a change! I drove around and eventually settled upon a quiet road, off the beaten track, where I could read my book and wait. No sooner had I turned the first page, a job was sent to me! Typical! 

“18 month old female, choking” 

Well, to quote myself, “I found myself growing in confidence and stopped being daunted by the prospect of arriving on my own”. THAT was clearly a lie! I looked at the address and brought it up on the map. It was on the road that I was sitting on about 200 ft down the road. I was on scene within 30 seconds of the call coming in. I’d had no time to gather my thoughts or think about what the algorithm was for a choking toddler. Before I could blink, I was being waved at by a frantic parent, was holding all my bags including the Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS) kit and was heading into the unknown. Proper choking is extremely rare, normally in the 6-8 minutes it takes for us to arrive the obstruction is cleared, or partially cleared and there is nothing for us to do. I’ve seen 1 choking since I started and that was on an adult. That was cleared with back slaps! Pleeeeeease let this be the case here! 

As I rushed into the kitchen / diner the lack of crying, coughing and other noises associated with a distressed infant were worryingly missing. Her mum was frantically slapping the little girls back but to no avail. I took the child, who’s eyes were pierced with fear and started back slaps. There was no air movement at all and unless the obstruction was cleared quickly this little girl would be in a whole world of trouble. After just 3 back slaps, that ‘whole world of trouble’ was realised . She went limp in my arms. It was a feeling I'd never experienced. The life draining out of a child. My heart was racing, the mother was asking what was happening and begging me to do something. I knew the algorithm would tell me to start CPR. 

I ripped open the PALS kit and grabbed a pediatric laryngoscope. It was so small compared to the adults. I put it into her mouth and lifted it as I had done in training school a long time ago! The light on the blade lit up her mouth. I was now lying on my front desperately looking down her throat, manipulating the blade to try see something. Anything. Then I saw it. I blindly reached for the forceps with my spare hand, not wanting to move a muscle now I had the obstruction in view. How I managed to locate the forceps I'll never know but I just shouted ‘OPEN THEM’. They were taken for my hand and then returned, out of their sterile packaging. As carefully as I could I inserted them into the mouth and at the second attempt, I managed to grab the stray piece of apple. 

Amazingly, she still had a pulse so I just started ventilating her. In my head I was begging that she would start breathing. I radioed to control and quite rudely demanded an ambulance immediately! I think the tone of my voice said it all. For what seemed like an eternity I ventilated the little girl waiting for the ambulance to arrive. Then inbetween my ventilations she took a breath. Then another, and another, and another. I took the bag away and just starred.......she was breathing on her own. 

On cue the ambulance crew arrived. They looked at the bag I was holding, the open PALS kit and said ‘Ready to go?!’. They grabbed my bags, I scooped up the girl and as quickly as they arrived, we were gone! The blue call was put and we left. Mum was holding the girls hand and I was just starring still! 
Her eyes, slowly opened, she coughed and then started crying. I’ve never been so happy to see a child cry. Overwhelmed would be an understatement. We arrived at hospital and I handed over to the waiting Doctors. There was a total sense of relief as I walked away, back to the ambulance. I sat there starring at my blank paperwork and was physically shaking. All the adrenaline and emotion pouring out. It was a totally surreal experience. I sat there and didn’t write a thing for about 10 minutes. I felt validated as a Paramedic and was by far the proudest moment of my career to date. 

Will I feel calmer if I ever have to face that situation again? I very much doubt it. I could have parked absolutely anywhere in a 16 square mile area. I chose this road. I don’t know why. If I had been another minute away it could have been a completely different outcome and probably would have been. I’m just glad I’m not faced with writing about a tragedy. Instead, a rare success. I was just in the right place at the right time, and for that I am thankful. You can call it fate, divine intervention or just sheer luck. The result is the same! 

I’m still buzzing!


  1. OMG!! Firstly I recalled the moment some 35yrs ago my daughter with CP stopped herself breathing by rolling onto her tummy & being unable to get back smothered herself! Fate, God or whatever you believe in had me check her. I will never forget the fear I felt just reading your blog!! That time I bought her back.
    You and your colleagues are amazing. That's all.

  2. Thankfully these kind of jobs are rare, made even more daunting I think if you have young children of your own. Congratulations on a job well done Ella x

  3. Right place, right time. Fate, chance, whatever - you did it right.

  4. Hurrah for you and being in the right place, with the right skills

  5. I'm gonna have to stop reading your blogs! - I feel like I'm there with you and the terror / elation is tangible!

    I don't think my heart can cope!

  6. Scary but bloody well done Ella!

  7. Amazing! I cried reading this! x

  8. I'm with him !! It's like your there reading that I had an instance where a mans pace maker stopped working in the restaurant I was manager in lady kept saying he's only had the lasagne !!!! X well done Ella

  9. Reading this entry reminded me of a call I had over 20 years ago. I was a dispatcher at the time for our town of about 12,000 residents. (I am in the US, by the way). A call came in from the county 911 center - infant not breathing. I hit the tones, and dispatched the apparatus. I also dispatched one of the police officers directly - something not normally done for a medical call. I knew that this officer was a trained emergency medical technician (one step down from paramedics on this side of the pond) and carried a jump bag in his patrol car at all times. I also knew he was the best chance this kid had. He arrived on scene in record time, worked his butt off to save that poor baby. Unfortunately, for all the training and skills you have. You don't win them all. The baby's father had given it a bottle then put it down for a nap. It apparently spit up, as babies do from time to time, and aspirated the formula. The officer went home for the day after that - it was close to the beginning of his shift. He would have stayed, however the officer in charge of the shift told him to leave and go home. It was clear that he was affected by the call.

    Of all the calls I handled while in that position, this is one of the two that I remember the most.


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