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.
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.
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?