The Jobs We Do…

We arrived at the location at the same time as the FRU, one of those warrens of estate flats that cover our patch. It was gone nine in the evening and there were patches of rain. The job started well as I fell arse over tit up an unlit flight of stairs while carrying some of our kit.

Our patient was given as a sixty year old having an asthma attack. After peering at door numbers in the dark and climbing three flights of stairs we finally managed to find the flat. Our FRU was peering at his watch, he was off work in ten minutes so was hoping that we wouldn't need his help.

A bedraggled woman opened the door, she was in her late fifties and was crying.

“She's dead”, she said to us, “She's dead”.

I pushed past her, not knowing what to expect.

The body was lying on the floor, half in the living room, half in the hallway. Flies crawled over it, and there was the smell of death in the flat.

“I came home from shopping, and she was just lying there”, the woman sobbed.

I wondered if I should check for a pulse on the corpse. But where is the pulse on a dead dog?

The deceased was a rather overweight collie dog. I walked over to it – while my expertise is in dead people, it was pretty obvious that the animal had been dead for some time. It looked like doggy CPR would not be needed. It would also take an hour to shave the dog enough to be able to stick our defibrillator pads to it's chest. So we decided to step outside our guidelines and declare the patient dead without the customary heart-trace.

My crewmate looked after the human patient as I waved the relived FRU goodnight, looks like at least one of us would be getting off work on time for a change.

I looked around the flat – it was a bit cluttered and a bit grimy but not too bad. Unfortunately there has been an explosion in the fly population in East London recently – and I think that most of them came from this flat. One bit of flypaper had been hung and it was solid with the bodies of flies. The rest buzzed around us – landing where the dog had evacuated it's bowels and then in our hair.

Lovely.

Our patient was incredibly upset that her dog had died and I have complete sympathy for this. It's awful to lose a loved pet – and as this woman lived alone it was probably her only company. She'd become so upset she'd started to have trouble breathing. My crewmate had already done a good job of calming the woman down, but every time she saw the body she'd start crying again.

It also became obvious that the woman had some sort of mental illness, she had some strange beliefs that didn't affect her ability to look after herself and was a bit 'off' (which is obviously a highly professional medical term for 'somewhat eccentric').

The woman also refused to come to hospital.

But what could we do? All the council services that would remove the dog would be home having their supper.

Once more it was down to the ambulance service to step outside our normal job of giving people a taxi ride to hospital.

Leaving my crewmate with the woman I made my way back down to the ambulance and radioed Control, after giving her the story there was silence on the other end of the radio. Once she had stopped laughing she asked if she could phone me privately. A few moments later my phone rang and I was greeting by Control giggling down the line at me.

Once the pair of us had calmed down a bit we decided to contact the RSPCA and see what they could advise. After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing I ended up speaking to one of their inspectors. For some reason they are only really interested in animals that still have a pulse, but he did tell me that the Harmsworth hospital would take the dog in to be cremated if our patient agreed.

I checked with Control that it would be alright for us to do this, they agreed that it was in the patient's best interests and none of us wanted to leave her all night with an incontinent dead dog in her living room. We spoke to the patient and, after saying her final goodbyes, agreed to let us take the dog.

I've been in the job longer than my crewmate, so I made sure that I was at the head end, while she got the leaky end that was covered in maggots. She's worked with animals before so didn't mind.

Honest.

We wrapped the corpse in a sheet and started lugging the dead weight down the stairs.

Now, I know it's awful to lose a pet, I've known people devastated by the loss of a dog and can fully sympathise. But there was something inherently funny about two ambulance folks carrying a dead dog out to an ambulance at the dead of night. So I'll admit that there were a fair few giggles. All the time we were hoping that no-one would look out of their window to wonder what we were doing…

Finally we made it to the ambulance and loaded up. Just then a police carrier crept up to us and asked if we needed any help with anything (for we were on that kind of estate). We told them the story – I think they enjoyed the entertainment…

We then found ourselves driving across London with a dead dog on the back of our ambulance. My crewmate spotted me checking the corpse in the rear-view mirror – there then may have been some suggestion that I thought it was a zombie dog and that it was waiting to attack…

We reached the Harmsworth hospital and signed over the dog to the very helpful nurse. I'm not sure what the people in the waiting room made of two ambulance people carrying a dead dog past them in a sheet, all four legs stiffly pointed in the air.

Then it was a case of mopping out the back of the ambulance (where the dog had… leaked) and getting on with finding some less hirsute patients.

Now – some people might think of this as a waste of an ambulance, but we did what we had to do in order to help the woman, to stop her having stress-related breathing difficulties. We also filled in one of our 'vulnerable adult' forms to refer her to the social services in order to help with her fly infestation and maybe have someone formally assess her mental health. Sorting out someone's health by removing a dead dog is a new treatment – perhaps I could get a grant to research it?

20 thoughts on “The Jobs We Do…”

  1. No its Ok It was just tea deficient error on my part, whilst having a sneaky peek at the blogs at work, I had inadvertently followed a link to an old post, I only had time to read the top line, before being called away, and when I came back (to your home page) the post had gone. Duhhhhh, drink more tea.

  2. All in a day's work. Good on you and your partner for being compassionate and humble enough to do it. Not quite what you trained for but just as valuable to that lady.

  3. Once again, a perfect example of going outside of 'the book' to do what's in the best interests of the patient. Congratulations on maintaining your qualification as a member of the Human race 🙂

  4. I am total agreement with all that has been said before as well as the fact that this made me laugh out loud at your description of the call and cheered up a very boring afternoon for me – so thanks for your compassion and your comedic writing!!!!

  5. “Tom am I hallucinating or was there, oh so very briefly another, very important post, that you have now taken down?”Not as far as I'm aware. You have me intrigued now…

  6. Thanks so much Tom – for helping that woman in a very compassionate “above and beyond” sort of a way and also for giving me the best laugh I've had in what has been a very crap week.Hope the 'flu has cleared up.

    Sonya

  7. Tom. I'm in the middle of working a run of 11 days straight after agreeing to do some cover for someone in a sticky situation without thinking it through properly, and I'm absolutely, totally knackered, but you made me laugh out loud. Thanks for that!!

  8. I possibly should not have found this post as funny as I did. I am glad I did not read it work, I would have labelled odd than I already am.You did the best thing you could, and for the well being of the patient, and made the control laugh which is very important.

  9. Whoa – let's think a moment.This woman comes home from shopping and finds her dog dead. Rigor mortis, present along with flies and maggots, which means the dog has, presumably, been dead for a few days.Had she walked to a shop that had been about a hundred mile round trip?It looks like a case of dead through malnutrition. She certainly hadn't been in the flat for some days.

  10. Rigor tends to relax after a while, 72 hours average according to Wikipedia, so I wouldn't say days – rigor is a sign of a relatively recent death.When my cat died, she started stiffening up after about 45 minutes in the large joints, and we couldn't bury her until the following evening in a family member's garden, when she'd already become a bit more flaccid.

    Not a happy memory for me, but first-hand experience that the dog could be stiff after only an hour or so.

    The maggots are a bit more worrying but again, if she had flies in her flat already, and the dog had evacuated on dying, they would be all over it (like the famous saying) within a short period.

  11. A while ago I got a call out from our local Ambulance Service, (I'm an Animal Control Officer) they were doing CPR on a Pt and the house had animals in, could I assist? By the time I arrived the Crew had transported to hospital leaving the FRU outside. I dealt with the largest pet and then returned to see about the others. As I arrived back at the house so did the ambulance to drop off the FRU guy. I introduced myself, showed ID and asked if the Pt had survived. Unsurprisingly the answer was no. This then continued with the FRU going on his next call, leaving me as the only 'Official' around and me thinking 'Oh sh*t' I'm going to be the one to tell the NOK then. Thankfully the elderly disabled parent was half expecting it. I'm not exactly in my youth and I'm also a widower so I was able to empathise a bit. After passing on the news I was able to remove the rest of the frightened and confused pets. The really hard part was then asking the elderly parent to sign over the animals for re-homing. (All were re-homed) I've since had a couple of phone calls thanking me for the assistance. I'll be a bit more careful who I show my ID to in future! ;o) Keep up the good work mate.

  12. The dog looked well cared for to me, but had been incontinent for some days beforehand – I think that the fly eggs had been laid then perhaps. That and the flat was infested with flies (much like the local hospital) so it wouldn't have taken maggots long to find the body.The flies have been troubling the area for over a week now – for some reason there is a plague of them, so the presence of these wasn't unexpected. Except that there was little being done in the flat to control them (hence the vulnerable adult form)

    Dogs can become 'stiff' pretty much immediately after death, not true 'rigor' but something similar.

    The dog wasn't malnourished – if anything it was a bit tubby.

    The woman also had some other animals in the flat and they were all in good condition so there was no cause for concern in my eyes – otherwise, you can trust me, I would have told the RSPCA

  13. Hi Tom,easiest way to check a dog's pulse is two fingers behind the large pad on the foot of the back leg, the jugular vein or if you're feeling brave there's another one right at the base of the tail on the underside as well.

    Just in case you ever need to check again 🙂

  14. well done on this job, just reading it though i get a benny hill tune running through my head ……i think im going insane. not had none of these type but have had a man out wild fowling, that was a bit underwater,he was infact up to his neck. one of his dogs was scared to death and was sitting on his sholders.

    i was amazed at just how pleased the dog was to see us appear in a bright orange lifeboat.

    cheers

  15. Been There Done That, only that hospitals in Italy don't accept dogs to be cremated and we had to bury the 50kgs German sheperd in the lady's garden….Andrea (MD, previously EMT)

  16. top marks – you showed a truly compassionate response to a difficult and for the patient, extremely upsetting situation.well done – you are showing up your professional ability

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