Curse Of The Observer

I had a writer from Casualty out with me a couple of weeks ago – he lives local to the area and the BBC likes them to do at least one 'ride-out' so that they can get the gist of what the ambulance service is like. I know, I know, it doesn't show up on the screen, but the thought is in the right place and as the BBC have been really nice to me in the past I'm more than happy to help them out.

He was a nice chap and before the shift started we had a little chat, he was shown around the back of the ambulance and I explained that I don't do 'heartbreak and trauma', more 'drunks and drunkards'. I explained that we would have the 'Curse of the Observer' with us today – whenever there is an observer with a crew, they get nothing but 'crap' jobs all shift. We then settled down for our first call of the day.

So it was only a few minutes into the shift we found ourselves rushing out to the ambulance for a 'Two month old child, not breathing'.

I turned around to the writer and explained that it was probably a child with a runny nose, it normally is. Then I realised what time of the day it was – 7am. It wasn't outside the realms of possibility that this could be a 'genuine' job. Maybe the parents had slept through the night and woke, happy that their child hadn't woken them, only to find them dead in their cot.

I told the writer that as soon as we arrived at the house he should jump into the passenger seat and to try and keep a low profile.

We arrived at the house at the same time as the FRU, I jumped out of the ambulance and struggled getting the equipment out the side storage, my crewmate ran into the house.

I heard the mother from the ambulance – she was making a noise, the mixture of crying and screaming that will turn anyone's blood cold. I didn't need to go into the house to know that the baby truly was a dead.

Entering the house I passed the mother to get to the rear bedroom. The father was pacing up and down, nonsense words were spilling from his lips. My crewmate and the FRU were kneeling around a tiny baby. She was laying flat on the floor, motionless. A drop of blood had formed under her nose.

It was a 'scoop and run' job – there is plenty that we can do for people whose heart has stopped even for children and babies, we are trained in the resuscitation techniques that the hospitals use. In these cases though, we'd rather let the paediatric consultants deal with it, they are much better trained than us and, with lots of staff in a well equipped resus room, young patients stand a better chance.

So we did some interventions on the scene while the mother got some shoes on, then rushed out to the ambulance. I drove us to the hospital, the writer next to me. Each time a car did something stupid the writer muttered that they should 'get out the f**king way'. We made it to hospital in a few minutes and left the child with the resus team.

Unfortunately there was nothing that the hospital could do.

Once more, sitting outside the A&E department doing my paperwork, I heard the mother's scream from the relatives room as the doctors broke the news to her that her baby was dead.


The writer was surprised at the speed and co-ordination that we showed in dealing with this job – even though I wasn't working with my regular crewmate, we worked as if we were one person. He was also surprised at the idiot drivers that refused to get out of our way. In my eyes the drive to the hospital wasn't a bad one, but then I have developed a high tolerance for driver incompetence.

We spoke to the police, there was nothing unusual about the circumstances of the death, the drop of blood on the child's face could have been caused by the parents attempting to breath for the child and the police seemed satisfied that everything was 'above board'.

Our Control asked if we were alright, they do try and look after us. We were all fine, but a Team Leader appeared to check up on us anyway.

Thankfully the rest of the day was fairly peaceful.

23 thoughts on “Curse Of The Observer”

  1. Its always such a shame when someone young is involved in a case like this. I would be suprised if the writer didnt carry away in some form, some hidden emotional scares. I mean your trained to deal with this as best as you can but I suppose hes not. Mind you I think these guys are normally preyy resilliant. Hopefully he took things ok. When was this job Tom

  2. Now that is the sort of job that confirms it is not the career for me.It must leave a mark on you no matter how long or well trained you are.

    Well done guys

  3. Words cannot describe the admiration we all have for you and your colleagues. If only ministers took the time to act as observers maybe the NHS would get the proper funding it needs – and the proper organisation to end the waste.

  4. Apparently it's common for victims of cot death to have a little bleeding from the nose or mouth — last time I took a cot death call, the baby's father told me that the baby was bleeding from the nose, so I went home and looked it up and found an article about it.I wonder if this story will reappear in the next series of Casualty?

  5. Every parents (and most EMTs) worst nightmare. Do you ever find out from the hospital what the suspected cause of death was (besides just 'Respiratory Arrest') ?

  6. I've read this blog for years and whilst may stories have made me feel sad, this one made me sob.I admire you guys so much for coping with things like that – I'd be a wreck.

    Thanks for doing what you do

    xx

  7. It's not just the story itself, it's the way you put it across. You have the attribute of putting your emotions into writing which is a rare gift. Your writings come from the heart, not just memory.

  8. I'm not a mother but the way you described this I *feel* as though I am. I can hear exactly what those screams would have been like. Poor woman; poor bloke; poor teams. It has to be one of the worst things to deal with from everyone's perspective. As always, much respect to you Tom.

  9. I was the big sister of one of those babies nearly 20 years ago…There are no words.

    Thanks for doing what you could. Every one of your baby stories makes me cry.

  10. Tom, I've oly ever had nightmares about these jobs. Never had to deal with one in real life. I dont't know how you deal with it and hope I never have to find outI cried for two days when my friends dog died, a kid would knock me sideways. No matter how accustomed you become to death it cant be easy with a wee one.

    Hope this does not cause any of you to loose sleep. Despite the outcome it sounds like everything that could be done, was and without meaning to sound crass was what we call (tentatively) a good job.

    Sleep well, and keep it up.

  11. This is one type of job that I hate coming through on our screen in the cab.I too go through the 'Its just a sniff and cold' (I hope)

    Thankfully I have not had to do one yet, and don't look forward to the first one either.

    My wife has been through the same as you, and these jobs upset her greatly, as did reading your blog.

  12. Unfortunately I can bear witness to every word written above.I had 3 paed arrests in the 2 weeks before Christmas 2005, those jobs still periodically leave their mark on me.

    The point that you make about getting the child to the specialist team asap is an important one. I am sometimes thought of for “staying and playing” but not with kids…you can see the puff as dust as I dissappear to the nearest suitable ED…that's what blue lights and sirens were made for and after past experiences i have a very low threshold to use them.

    It's a credit to ambulance staff that in situations like the one above, everyone seamlessly plays their part and displays their true professionalism.

    Thoughts are with you and your crew Tom, and of course the parents.

  13. Poor you, and that poor mother (and the rest of the family). I just went and checkd on my girls (ages 2 and 7, past the age of crib death) and was grateful to hear snuffly snores from both beds. My girls have always been snorers (in a really endearing way) and I've always been able to stand in the doorway and know: all is well. It's a tough job you do.

  14. 2300 29th Dec – 20 mile blue light run with mother birthing with placenta previa. 0630 30th Dec – 45 mins CPR on a middle-aged man whose wife had just got up, expecting to spend the day with him gardening. 2300 30th Dec – keep pace for three miles alongside a swollen, black, freezing river until the inshore recue volunteers could retrieve the body; 2330 – 15 mins of CPR on the body of a young woman, in the back of an ambulance full of wet clothes and stinking river water, being driven by a policeman, so that 2 of us could work on the patient. A&E can't manage miracles, even though they tried for 90mins. In amongst the above, the “usual” night shift drunks and assaultees.0330 31 Dec – find that I'm losing the plot whilst giving my second “fatal” statement of the day. Shaking, vomiting, weeping, I take myself home. I've been off since. I'm writing this at 0512, because I cannot sleep.

    Sometimes, dear readers, we DON'T cope.

  15. Even though I'm in a different part of the country to GoodGrief (london), I was also involved in 3 paed arrests before christmas… 3 of 5 suspended's we had in a fortnight – typically we only have approx 6 paeds die a year in the dept. Was genuinely spooked to see somewhere else was going through the same as us. The one thing it has given me is the confidence not to be scared of dealing with these pt's and their relatives.

  16. A hard run. Take the time you need, you know the service wont offer you it or counceling. Sometimes you have to say enough is enough. We, your colleages, understand.

  17. Wish I could send you a hug, or a few hours out of my day today where I won't have that kind of burden on me, and those memories – I'd swap you my peaceful quiet hours without a second's hesitation if I could so you can have a break from it.I'll echo the other reply and say take the time you need, and don't feel worse because you're “not coping” – the one thing I wish I'd known when I went through a traumatic period is that, you need to recover in your own way, and it's not a competition. Be gentle to yourself.

    There's not much else I can say except send my most heartfelt best wishes to you.

  18. Not just collegues, we all understand, after all you are human.We all expect so much of you all, our hero, but even a hero needs time out.

    I hope things start getting better for you and you get the support you need.

    Take care

  19. Good lord. You lot need a law that fines drivers that don't move over, an education program about moving over and a large lorry airhorn, mounted at a level that will bring the offenders ears close to bleeding.miss_kitty, Seattle

  20. I must say, I don't usually comment on blogs or the like, especially those of people I don't know. However, I read this entry, and then I read your comment kevin, and if I hadn't been in work, I'd have broken down in tears.I really hope you've found even a slight bit more peace in the time since you've posted this, because having an experience like that can kill you. Life is so cruel, and I just hope you'll be ok, because the reason you reacted like this is because you do care, and in the medical services, that is what you need. I hope things turn out ok for you. For all of you.

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