Pre-Christmas Crisis

I’m thankful that Christmas is over, and as I sit here nursing a sore knee, I think back on some of the jobs that I went to over the holiday period…

Our patient was in his mid forties, he had called us from his mobile phone to tell us that he had suffered a fit.  While I’m used to people calling us if someone has a fit in front of them, the patient themselves phoning us is unusual (and normally means that they haven’t had a fit at all).

We found him sitting on the floor, beside a bus stop.  It was one of the really cold days and so it came as no surprise to me that he felt like a block of ice.  Our ambulance is warmer than an A&E department so I decided to sit and chat with him a bit so that he could warm up.

He told me that he was an alcoholic and that he hadn’t eaten or slept for the past three days.  A look into his eyes and I could see that it wasn’t just alcohol that was his problem.  I questioned him further and he admitted to taking ‘speed’.  If he was taking speed then I wasn’t surprised that he hadn’t slept for the past three days.

I checked him over to see if the cause of his seizure was anything we could treat.  All his vital signs were normal although we couldn’t check his temperature as our electronic thermometers stop working if it gets too cold.

His home address was on the other side of London, so I asked him why he was on ‘my patch’.

“It’s my daughter you see”, he told me, “She’s in foster care around here, but I want to see her for Christmas.  I even bought her a present.”.

I looked around in vain for something that may be a Christmas present for a little girl.

“I sold it, so I could get some cider”.

He’d been sleeping rough and in hostels after losing his daughter to social services, he’d been drinking so much that he had started to have alcoholic seizures.  Instead of eating properly he had been drinking cheap strong cider and taking amphetamines.  Then he had bought his daughter a Christmas present and sold it for a few cans of cider.  If I left him where he was there was a good chance that, without a decent meal inside him, he’d freeze to death.

So I did the only thing that I could do – I took him to hospital.

Then I had to put it out of my mind and do my next job.

For those that are interested I should be in today's Guardian 'society' supplement, more on that later.

17 thoughts on “Pre-Christmas Crisis”

  1. Oh my God! How awful for the parents! I wonder if was an accidentally-successful suicide that was meant to be a cry for help, or manipulation? My son's first girlfriend had taken an overdose, and survived, and he said that she often used it to get her own way. She said her parents were afraid to deny her or have any confrontations with her, in case she'd try it again!

  2. Good Morning,Some lives are terrible, it's true and I guess we all see it from time to time. Don't you wish sometimes we could do just that little bit extra.Not to detract from your fellow: when I was an 80%-er, I was being OST'd by a Para one night when we happened upon a 24 y/o heroin addict in a terrible state. Hooked on heroin since 12 y/o, a raging chest infection, no significant peripheral venous access as he'd well used those, he'd been injecting directly into his femoral arteries, one of which was now useless. The other was a partially open, weeping sore that he was having difficulty with. He was doubly incontinent, pencil thin and had the most awful deathly pall about him. He refused to let us near him, though we did get him on the back of the ambulance and he asked if we had anything he could clean up with, so we let him do that. He wanted to know if he could inject straight into his heart through his chest. He refused hospital, stating that he didn't want to keep us from more important, more deserving cases and left with two Christian Outreach workers.I wonder if he survived the night – my Para didn't think he would.Society can argue all it wants about drugs – and I still think alcohol is one of the most dangerous – but what the hell happens in a 12 y/o life to get then hooked on heroin?

  3. If it got to the point where/went on long enough that his daughter was taken away by social services, then the poor kid probably knows better than to wait for him or depend on him in any way.

  4. I was just having a random blogabout when I came upon this brilliant writing. I have always admired the ambulance service as they are the first on the scene of so many catastrophes…(ok and I like the guys in uniform LOL). Seriously though you do a fantastic job; sadly (in my experience) a better one than much of the NHS. Looks like I've found a new addition to my “Favourites”. Will be back soon. Take care and good wishes to you and your fellow crews.

  5. I know – at 12 how can you be expected to make huge life choices like that…I wish we could rehabilitate everyone – but it just isn't going to happen unfortunately.

  6. Kids are generally less capable of making sensible long-term decisions than adults, so I would have thought that given exposure to heroin/drug use via family, peers etc, a child just beginning to turn into an adolescent would be easier to get hooked than an adult. Witness the way children fall for marketing that would leave an adult with a few decades behind them cold.None of which theorising makes that, or the main post, any less heartbreaking.

  7. It's not just childish judgment and impulsivity–drugs (alcohol, nicotine, etc.) change the way the brain developments; making substance abuse more likely to result in addiction and recovery more difficult than when drug use starts later in life.

  8. Tom,I consider myself a hard-nosed old-timer in this job but your piece gave me a lump in my throat. My compliments for your writing. As far as children's lack of judgement is concerned, it can have tragic consequences. Yesterday colleagues went to a 10 yr old who'd hung himself because he'd been sent to bed for not eating his dinner

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