Dear patient,

I'm sorry.

I know you thought that you were going to die peacefully, but we have to try and save lives, even though you were terminally ill. Your husband didn't want you to die yet, neither did your daughter.

I'm sorry that when I reached you, you were breathing your last. It meant that I had to lift you off your bed onto the hard floor.

I'm sorry I had to do that, but it is the only way I could do effective chest compressions. I'm sorry I had to do the chest compressions, I know I broke some of your ribs, but please understand that it is a known side effect of trying to keep your heart pumping.

I'm sorry that we had to put those needles in your veins, but you needed the fluid. You also needed the drugs that helped your heart beat – but it was probably painful.

I'm sorry that we had to pump air into your lungs, it can't have been nice for you, but we needed to keep your vital organs supplied with oxygen.

I'm sorry that because of the air in your pleural space we had to push two large needles into your chest. I don't know if you felt it, but it did help reinflate your lungs.

I'm sorry that your husband didn't quite understand what was going on – we tried to explain, and I think that at the end he did realise that you probably weren't going to wake up.

I hope you didn't mind when we had to keep passing a couple of hundred joules through your body – it made your body jump, but it's not your fault. I don't know if it hurts. I hope it didn't.

I know that the journey into hospital wasn't the smoothest ride, and the sirens were loud – but we did need to get you into hospital quickly.

I did remember to wrap the blanket around you so that anyone standing outside the hospital doors wouldn't see that you were naked.


…I'm not sorry that we, and the hospital were able to keep you alive long enough for your family to arrive and gather around you.

I hope that there was a part of you that was still aware of what was happening, and was able to hear their words of love.

I hope that it was worth the pain so that you could hear those words, and feel their presence.

I left you at the hospital, your heart was beating and you were breathing. I hope that your end was without pain.

42 thoughts on “Sorry”

  1. What a post. You brought a lump to my throat.I had to take my little girl to A & E last week (by car) and the care shown by the doctors and nurses was outstanding. Not only did they do right by my daughter, they did right by me, who was understandably upset at having to see my baby operated on. I could not thank them enough for the care shown. They do an awesome job that I for one wouldn't even contemplate doing.

    On a different note, I had to have my pony put down and although it wasn't the most pleasant thing to watch, it was done in the field he had froliced in for years and where he had been at his happiest. I have told my husband that if it is at all possible for me to be despathced in that manner when my time comes, I would appreciate it.

  2. Well, bugger me, you've got a talent for this haven't you? Last two days' posts just perfectly conceived, perfectly executed and say everything that needs to be said. This post – remarkable.

  3. I know that as a health care proffessional one must do all you can for a patient, including attempting a resusatation. However unless I am witnessed colapsing by an ALS trained person can you please leave me alone to pass away peacefully. I would rarther not lie motionless unable to speak being stabed and beaten black and blue by well meaning people. I would rarther not have to suffer 100's of joules passed through my body. Then probably die anyway but if I do come through the progosis is poor, days on ITU, more arrests? Permanant brain dammage.Untill things change however I will have to silently carry on.

  4. I have been reading this blog for a couple of months now, but have never posted any comments. Until now. I couldn't read this post and not comment. It brought a tear to my eye. What you and all medics do Tom, is simply supreme (that's not the word I wanted, but I couldn't quite find the right word). You and your colleagues go about the job with such dignity and professionalism, I am and will always be in awe.THANK YOU TOM. THANK YOU DOCTORS. THANK YOU NURSES. THANK YOU ALL MEDICS. You are never thanked enough, only ever blamed when things go wrong.


  5. I have been reading this blog for a while but I had to post in response to this – I sooooo agree with what you are saying. I remember being a junior dr in hospital and getting so angry with the family for not allowing us just to let people go in some semblence of dignity. Now I'm a GP I can kind of see the agony of the family not wanting to let go sometimes – but I actually think it's a really selfish response. The media get so hot under the collar about doctors making “not for resus” decisions – what they don't understand is that most health professionals would be running to put a Not For Resus label on ourselves or any of our relativves if the time had come. Thanks for this post.

  6. Thanks Tom.If I'm ever in the situation you describe, on the receiving end of a full-scale medical assault, I'll remember that all this agonising pain being inflicted on me is for my own good, because I might just live.

  7. All this time I've been reading many blogs just as a way to pass time I guess…but this post today…it moved me to tears…I'm speechless…

  8. Wow.My dad was an ambulanceman. Maybe this post partly explains his DNR letter he left when he went into hospital.

    On the other hand, my mum 'died' after an op, went through resuscitation and never knew about it; but for that I don't know how much they had to do. Same with my daughter – they sent me to the side cell, (the one where your tea comes in seconds, in a china cup, with a biscuit, even on the NHS,) so they could get physical with it, but she too seemed unphased by the resus, when she survived.

    Still, what a post – ouch.

    Cheryl (Mad Baggage)

  9. Yes; beautifully written and full of feeling. I guess we shouldn't be encouraging you Tom…you might decide on writing as a career instead and we, the punters, would be the worse for losing you from the profession.I'm sure she understood.

  10. CPR is great if your general health gives you a chance. But I would hope my family could say goodbye to me, if I was dying, soon enough to spare me that experience. I am tattooing DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) on my sternum when I turn 65 or so. If you get to me before that, then, yes I will forgive. Not your fault after all.I have reason to regret some ribs I have cracked And to admire the family for stopping the efforts when they realized what they were putting their mother through.

  11. Hey tom, if you wanna swap jobs for a week I'm more than willing. God knows I could use the work experience after all.Merys

    PS – i'm not trying to say my week is harder than yours, but if you ever fancy a change…..

  12. It's something you need to tell your relatives, not Tom. If he gets called out he has to do everything possible, or there'd be trouble. He has no choice.It's only because death is such a taboo subject in our culture that what happens when it comes is never discussed. People remain in denial until the end, and often never say goodbye properly. It's very sad.

  13. My father died in hospital after an RTC … thank you for making it make sense … thank you for making me cry out those final tears …

  14. Hey Tom, ever thought of a tissue warning icon?Brilliant, emotive piece of writing that does justice to Emergency response teams.

  15. Tom,If you achieve nothing else with this post, you made me think about how it is for the professionals to attend such events. It is obvious that you cared, and still do. Don't lose that, it is a very precious thing and I for one am grateful that you do care about what you do; you do make a difference. If and when (hopefully never) I ever need the assistance of such a professional, I hope it is someone like you.


  16. Except a couple of weeks ago in the Times I saw an article about a man who suffered from a long-term condition that kept him bedridden. He tried to kill himself by overdosing but his wife would call 999 and he would be “saved”.Eventually she decided to respect his wishes. She came home from grocery shopping and he'd taken an overdose and didn't want her to call an ambulance. So she didn't. She held his hand and let him die and then called the doctor etc to tell them he was dead.

    Then she ended up being hauled up in front of a court charged with manslaughter.

  17. Tom,When my uncle died a few years back of a terible illness I was so shocked I couldnt speak for days. It was mainly the fact that we knew it was close to his time but just didnt expect it so soon that really got to me. He said he didnt want resuscitating because he'd seen what happens and didnt want his last few moments of life to go like that. I couldnt understand why he'd not want to say goodbye to his family properly if he knew he was going but still they tried to resuscitate him. Your post helped me understand why

    Liz & Baby Josh

  18. Touching. My throat felt heavy after reading this. My elderly neighbour went through this recently and didn't live to see his loved ones gather round him – he died in the ambulance while it stood parked outside his home.

  19. Was going to post – but it sounded trite!Much respect Tom – Great writing with thoughtful compassion (in both words and deeds). You have me thinking now – but I guess that's what you wanted!

  20. The part that must be the difficult is going on to the next job and put it all aside.This is your deepest and most hard hitting post ever.

    Speechless. Totally speechless.

  21. Not many things make me cry but I am sitting at my desk practically sobbing and hoping that nobody asks me what's wrong – very moving and has convinced me that living wills are worthwhile.

  22. Just read “Blood, Sweat and Tea” and if someone had told me that a book on this subject could be so fascinating, poignant and laugh-out-loud funny I would have been very sceptical.However this particular article has really got me thinking. While there are many who would be delighted if you acted on their behalf as you did here, I would not be one of them. If I am going to die, can we please just get it over with. Painful for me (sod the dignity) and a waste of your effort.

    So my question is this:

    What form of words would you recommend, in what format, placed where to give you carte blanche to minimise my pain but otherwise simply to let me die?



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