Our second call of the day was to an address where the elderly woman who lived there was believed deceased – the neighbours had called the police, and the police had called us. What this often turns into is us struggling to gain entry to the house, normally resulting in an injury to me, only to find someone who has been dead for sometime.
We rolled up to the house and met with the neighbours who led us around to the back garden where, peering through the rear window, we could see the old woman sitting in her chair looking pale, still and very dead.
Simultaneously my crewmate and I jumped back in shock as we saw her take a breath!
She was breathing about 6 times a minute, and surely didn't have much longer left to live – I rushed around the front and kicked in the front door (in one hit, something I've never managed before) and we got her out to the ambulance in double-time. We quickly decided that it would be wrong to 'stay and play' instead opting to ventilate her via 'ambu-bag' and to monitor her cardiac rhythm and her pulse (which was strong and regular).
The hospital had a team standing by, as we had notified them of the patient on leaving the scene. The transport time to hospital was about two minutes, and on arriving the A&E team leaped into action, intubating and ventilating her, gaining venous access and running the various blood tests – family members were contacted and plans for her treatment were drawn up. At no time did I feel that this 88 year old woman was receiving anything other than the best treatment possible.
We cleaned the ambulance and restocked before going onto our next job; each time we returned to the hospital we popped our head into the Resus room to check how she was doing – there were plans to CT Scan her head, and to move her to ITU. The family arrived and after some discussion it was decided that the best care for her was going to be palliative – that is to make her comfortable, but not to do any invasive procedures and to allow her to die. This was, I feel, the right course of action – lack of oxygen would make any survival both short and would probably result in serious brain damage.
It has been a very long time since I've felt a great deal of sympathy towards someone – but this was one patient that I did actually care about, and not just because I'm soft on 'little old ladies'. She had little chance of recovery, but we hoped for it anyway. She fought for her life, and had probably been doing that for the whole of the night. Because of our actions, and the actions of the hospital team, she wasn't going to die alone, and she wasn't going to die without her family saying a final goodbye to her.
It's a small victory, but sometimes those victories are the only ones you get.