I remember going to an elderly couple, they had been burgled while they were still in the house. She was in tears while he was trying to keep that British stiff upper lip going. He'd fought in the war and now, years later, someone the same age as his great-grandson had smashed through a window and stolen money from them.
I remember the police being as supportive as they could, but they knew that it was unlikely that anyone would be punished for this crime. I checked the couple out and prescribed a big cup of sweet tea.
He had collapsed and his breathing 'wasn't right', the woman who had been smoking heroin with him had called the ambulance and then fled the scene. Unfortunately it was one of those blocks of flats that hides around the back of other houses, so it was a hard place to find. We carried what seemed to be the whole contents of the ambulance up the three flights of stairs to find our patient.
It's risky going into drug houses without police backup but we do it all the time – on the fly risk assessment and all that.
He was lying on the bed, turning blue and breathing twice a minute.
There was a ninety year old woman that I recall. She was one of the few cases of truly random violence that I'd been to. Her health was normally fine and this was the first time that she'd ever been in an ambulance. She had been doing her shopping when someone had come behind her, pushed her to the floor and stole her purse. She was a little shook up, but was otherwise fine.
We let the police use the back of our ambulance as an interview room so they could collect her details. Then we gave her a lift home.
Our heroin overdose wasn't breathing properly, so I pulled out the oxygen and ambu-bag and started breathing for him. Eventually he stopped breathing altogether. If we'd been a minute later, or if we'd waited for the police he'd be dead.
My crewmate drew up the heroin antidote, placed a needle into his arm and pushed the drug into his vein. The police arrived about this time and turned off the small TV that I'd been half watching while forcing oxygen into the man's lungs. Around the TV were pictures of two small girls, girls who I would later discover to be our patient's daughters.
Another house burgled. The family had come home from an evening out to discover their house had been ransacked. The children were crying and the parents were distraught. I remember the father sitting in my ambulance wringing his hands. Drawers had been turned over, and the contents lay around the floor. The children's Xbox had been stolen and they were being cuddled by their mum. Once more, no injury and nothing I could give them for the pain they felt. Once more we were called to deal with 'shock'.
Our heroin user had woken up, he seemed fully aware of what had happened, so it was unlikely that he had any brain damage from a lack of oxygen. He'd been smoking the heroin and had passed out, the next thing he knew there were police and ambulance people in his flat. He wasn't aware that he'd come so close to dying.
We walked him down to the ambulance to take him to hospital. He told me that he'd just been released from prison. I asked what he'd been in there for and he told be that he used to rob and burgle people.
“For drug money?”, I asked.
“Yes”, he said.
I know that whenever my car was stolen the thing that made me angry was that I was so powerless to stop it. I know that should someone break into my flat while I was away, they could utterly destroy my life. The irreplaceable things that they could take and the trespass against me would reduce me to a shadow of the person I am now. It would take years for me to get things back to normal. I would wish for them to die, and to die in horrible, horrible ways.
So we saved his life, but as I sat in the cab of the ambulance writing up the events on my paperwork, I wondered who we had helped.
We helped him keep breathing.
Did we help his daughters? Would they hate us for keeping an addict father in their lives? Or would they thank us for letting them keep their daddy, addiction and all?
Did we help the people who had been burgled by him? Or have we just sentenced more people to suffer the anguish of being robbed when our patient goes on to steal more things for drug money?
When confronted by someone who isn't breathing, or is seriously ill, there is no time to think these things through – we do what we do to save lives in the immediate present. If a paedophile stops breathing we have to attend to them in the same way as we would a war hero. It's something that sometimes rolls around my mind keeping me awake at night.
But who am I to judge?