It's a couple of minutes before we officially start our shift when Control phone us and ask us to go on an 'early job'. It's a cardiac arrest so we agree and jump into the ambulance.
Two FRU are already there, we are met at the door by a very calm looking elderly lady.
“He's upstairs, so are the paramedics. I'm sorry I shut the door, I didn't know anyone else was coming”.
From upstairs I can hear the bump, bump, bump of the patient's head hitting the floor as one of the FRU drivers is doing CPR.
I bound up the stairs and ask the other FRU, who is currently intubating the patient, what he wants me to do.
I can hear my crewmate talking to the wife downstairs, getting a history. The FRU has finished intubating the patient so I put a pillow under the patient's head to stop the banging.
We settle into the familiar rhythm, IV access, drugs every three minutes, constant CPR, check the heart rhythm, check the pulse, repeat from start.
It's obvious that we aren't going to get him back, so I take the time to talk to the wife.
“Your husband's heart has stopped”, I explain, “We are doing everything that we can for him and we need to make a decision now. Do we take him to hospital, or do we continue here and stop if there is no chance of getting him back. We are doing everything that the hospital would do for him”.
“What would you like us to do?”, I ask her.
And she replies, and my heart just breaks, right there on the spot.
“Well, we are both in our eighties – so we have spoken about this before especially after his heart attack. It's not a surprise and I know that he's going to stay dead. I think it's best if you continue here and stop when you think it's right”.
She calmly stands there watching us working on her husband until we get a rhythm change and are forced to take him to hospital. While my colleagues work on the patient I offer to take the wife to the hospital in one of the FRUs.
I help her tidy up the bedroom, we make a mess when we are running a resus. Packaging everywhere, bloody needles*, discarded equipment. She offers to help me tidy up and gets a plastic bag for me to put the rubbish in.
Still she remains calm.
Her son arrives to take her to the hospital – he is also calm and thanks me for my help.
Driving the FRU to to hospital my eyes are damp as I think of the complete acceptance of this sudden death. The British reserve, the “we'd spoken about it in the past”, the quiet thanking of everything we'd done.
Death and bad news affects everyone differently, so cry, some beat their chests, some get angry. But this quiet acceptance is one of the saddest responses I've ever seen.
*None of us had a sharps box as we'd run out on this job before we had a chance to check our motors.