A lot of my time at work is spent looking after people who don’t need to be there. People who’s GPs were closed, who didn’t want to wait for a GP appointment, who can’t go directly to a ward because the ward is full but aren’t actually so unwell as to really warrant an ED trolley, people for whom we’re performing ass-covering medicine, because no-one wants to get sued.
But some days you get a run of people who are ill, who need the ED, and just occasionally you save a life.
Recently, I had a shift where someone arrived who was so sick that the crew had applied the defibrillator pads, had telephones us with a ‘pre-alert’ and were looking fairly worried when they arrived. And rightly so, the person on the trolley, to use a technical term ‘looked like shit’. He was pale, his breathing was shallow, rapid, and ineffectual. The crew were using a bag-valve-mask to push air in on his intakes of breath as a basic form of assisted ventilation.
For once all the training, all the experience, it all actually was useful. It was not used to explain to someone exactly why we wouldn’t be able to magic up the cure to their 2 year old problem that was suddenly urgent at 2am. The pre-alert had given us time to get drugs out ready, and the machine to assist with his breathing out of the store room and next to the bed. The drugs and equipment he needed were up and on, and indeed in him in minutes.
The best bit of my recent shifts was laughing and joking with this really delightful chap as I took him to the ward. A chap who’d been maybe minutes from stopping breathing just from sheer exhaustion a few hours earlier who stood up and got himself across to the hospital bed. The transformation was stunning.
It takes its place within my mind with other moments I treasure. Helping the terminally ill patient get on the plane to see their family one last time, sorting an older woman out with a proper stick, not the half-assed chunk of wood she’d borrowed from a friend. There are little moments in this job that are utterly fantastic, and shaking his hand and walking back to the ED is quite definitely one of them.