The Humanity Of Bystanders

Well that's the last time I say that I haven't had an interesting job all shift…
My final job of the day was to a 'collapsed male in the street'. Unfortunately Control were having a bit of a computer failure, so the job was given to me the 'old fashioned' way, by someone at Control telling me where to go.

“Collapsed in the street… he'll be drunk then”, I joked.

No matter, I still raced to the scene as quickly as possible (I've mentioned this before, that what I get called for, and what is actually wrong with the patient are often two very different things – so I always try to get to the job as quickly as possible).

The location wasn't exact, so I spent a bit longer than I would have liked peering down dark streets, looking for a man collapsed on the floor. Some people driving towards me told me that the patient was a bit further down the road.

My heart sank when I saw a huge crowd of people standing around a man laying flat on his back. My heart sank even more when I saw a man doing CPR on the patient.

I jumped out of my car, grabbed my bag and trauma shears and started cutting the patient's clothes off. A quick look at his face, and I didn't hold much hope for him.

“He was jogging, and just collapsed”, said one of the men who had been performing CPR, “he hit his head, we've been doing CPR at 100 compressions a minutes”.

“Are you medically trained?”, I asked.

“No”, he replied, “I'm a teacher, but I've done a first aid course”.

“Well”, I said, after glancing at the monitor, and noting that there was no activity in the heart at all,”You were doing really good CPR, so you have given him the best chance he has for survival”.

I just wanted them to know that they were doing the right thing. I knew the patient had pretty much no chance of surviving this event, but that these strangers were trying their best renewed a bit of my faith in human nature.

The ambulance arrived only a few moments after I did, and as I looked at the driver, I could see by the expression on his face that he also realised how serious the situation was.

There was no time for any playing around, so we loaded the patient on the back of the ambulance, and took off for the hospital. I was 'bagging' the patient, while the ambulance attendant was continuing the CPR.

We arrived at the hospital, but there was nothing that they could do.

As he was out jogging, he didn't have any identification at all. We had also taken him to a different hospital than you would expect – it wasn't the closest hospital by distance, but it was the hospital that we could get to the quickest.

…So somewhere, there is probably a family wondering why their husband, or their father, or their brother, or their lover hasn't come home. They'll ring the local hospital, and they won't have heard of him, and it will only be when they go to the police that they will find out the truth.

I'm also aware that the bystanders who were doing CPR would probably have this event haunting them – I deal with sudden death a lot, but for these people, it was probably the first time they ever had someone die in front of them. I wish there was some way that I could have stayed and made sure that they were alright, and that I was proud of them and that they should be happy that they did the best that they could.

So, a traumatic event for everyone except for us ambulance and hospital staff. And to think that people ask us how we deal with jobs like this…

14 thoughts on “The Humanity Of Bystanders”

  1. On a completely un-clot-related subject, your blog appeared in today's society gaurdian, in case you hadn't been contacted by them already

  2. Hi Tom,Dealing with death and its immediate consequences is part of the Paramedics life and it is something that every one of us has come to terms with in order to function correctly and efficiently whilst performing our job. Like you, I noticed over many years, that the trauma of the event, whether involving family, friends or even strangers in the street is one that creates long lasting memories. For this reason it is important that these observers, whether they assisted in trying to revive the patient or not, should be left with a positive memory and the belief that they did the right thing! I am sure that the people at this incident left with such positive views and that you would have made that possible by your attitude towards them. I have occasionally had to share a shift with people that did not share this view and their attitude to the traumatised has been less than positive. Once the incident was closed and we retired to the privacy of our ambulance I would present my logic to these ignorant people and hope that in the future they just might learned the lesson about how to be the kind and caring, how to be a Paramedic. Well done!

    Live long and prosper.

  3. I'm not medically trained in any way, but I could suggest:Heart attack (clot in the artery supplying the heart)

    Brain Attack / Stroke (clot in the artery supplying the brain)

    Brain haemorrage (arterial failure inside the head)

    Mostly I get the impression that clots of blood are a frequent cause of unexpected death, and that unknown weak points in arterial walls are no fun either.


  4. The usual cause is a complete occlusion of the main stem of the left coronary artery. This can be caused by either a clot or a spasm. The left main stem is short (about 1cm) and then divides into a number of branches which supply the vast majority of the heart. If it is blocked then no blood will get down these branches and……….

  5. Just guessing from looking at the patient and the pattern of purple staining on his body, I'd guess that he had a pulmonary embolism. This is a blood clot in the lung.

  6. (nice)I think the common human in the street needs the reassurance you gave. It will empower them (do we still use that terminology.)

    In the rescure effort provided, you have given in many ways, medically and managed to give someone pride in what they have tried to achieve. Instead of not applying what they have learnt. The world needs more people like this.

    Whoever the person was, trying to help. I hope, I truely hope, you do well in your life, in the bravery you have shown, in the commitment you made. Tom when you spoke to that person, you will have given them a feeling of pride. In turn your comments have made me proud of our common humans.

  7. Nope I didn't know, so thanks for telling me – it's up at their website. Nice to see the word 'commode' linked with me…

  8. First Time Post. I am a first aider and I really hope I never have to do CPR as it was made very clear to us in training that your chances are reviving a patient are very unlikely and it will be unpleasant and stressful. They are not suddenly going to sit up coughing and spluttering and revived.However it was stressed that you are at least giving them a fighting chance and you do play a role in calming the crowd, sending scouts out for the paramedics and generally trying to make a terrible experience bearable for all concerned.

    I was a bit daunted by all this at first, but then I realised that I simply could not try and help in these circumstances and at least if I've had some training, it's better than none.

  9. Apologies to SQA, that was me posting above but I tried to login with a generic account name “Anonymous” and an obvious password.Anyway, just to add to the url I posted above, I work in the psychology services and come across a huge number of people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder caused by sudden deaths, trauma or horrific accidents. Its quite sad.

  10. I saved a kid's life a few years back – hit by a car & thrown across the road right in front of me – by just clearing his mouth so he could breath again. I felt horrible irrational guilt after for weeks just because I'd seen it happen, as if there was anything I could have done to stop it. The mind's a strange place.Having a basic knowledge of first aid meant at least I knew I'd done what I could and, thank god, he did survive. There's a wall of helplessness when you first face a casualty, with no training. The situation's so big you just feel you can't do _anything_ to make it right so often as not people freeze and do nothing. But we're all capable of doing _something_ and it might be that little something that makes the difference. After all, if someone's not breathing you can hardly make it worse …

  11. Just a quick comment re effectiveness of CPR- we've got our last 3 arrests back with an output (over the past 2 weeks!) which is a good patch and of course is also due to ALS interventions but never assume that CPR will be for nought- it plays an important part of the “chain of survival”cheers

  12. Hey, I Love Your Blog! It's like reading a book. That and because I am currently an EMT-B studying still to be a paramedic. People ask me how and why I want to help people..and I always reply that it isn't a job for everyone but someone has to do it and I love helping people!

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