The Nation's Health + police

A Life Of Grime

"59 year old female, collapsed behind closed doors."

There is that ominous feeling again! The one I get when those words appear on the screen. The apprehension that goes with the territory of entering someone's house, not knowing what you will find. Will the house be empty? Will you go from room to room hoping not to find a body? Will you find someone hanging? It's a horrible feeling and a job I never relish doing.

We headed round to the house. It was an old Georgian terraced property in quite considerably disrepair. Flaking paint, rotten sash windows, dirty net curtains, ivy growing up the wall, an over grown garden, a boarded up window and a broken letter box. If I didn't know any better I'd have said the house wasn't occupied but we had it on good authority that someone was indeed inside. Two days worth of milk was in the porch which suggested that normally someone was there. I knocked and shouted through the letter box. To my surprise I heard a faint 'Help me' in reply.

We couldn't get in and no one had a key so I requested police. While we were waiting a neighbour offered us access to her back garden. She also told us that the lady inside never goes out the house. We squeezed through a gap in the fence and peered through the window. Darkness! Luckily the old sash window wasn't locked and lifted up with relative ease. I immediately wished it hadn't. The smell that hit me.....wow!

This job in general challenges your senses and often offends them. It is true that there are smells you can taste and this smell instantly made me gag. Covering my mouth and nose

I pulled the curtain across and was met with literally a wall of rubbish. There was no way in, I couldn't see any part of the room. Back to the front!

By the time I'd clambered through the fence and got to the front door the police were on scene. After my explanation of the smell, we all donned masks and police forced the door in. I can't begin to describe the state of the house or convey the smell in words. It was beyond grim! As we made our way down the hallway, shuffling past the stacks of rubbish, I could feel the soles of my boots sticking to the floor. We followed the faint voice from the back of the house, all the while, the smell getting more intense. Maybe it's like touching something with a 'wet paint' sign on it, but despite knowing how vile the smell is I still found myself checking!

My heart sank as I turned the corner at the end of the hallway. The piles of boxes and rubbish continued, making it almost impossible to get to her but my main concern was her! She was lying face down in the doorway of what I assume was her bedroom. When I say 'in the doorway', I mean literally wedged. She must have been 30-35 stone. There was no way to even roll her onto her back. She had also been there two days so was saturated in urine and faeces. For the first time in a long time, I didn't have a clue what to do, or where to start. How do we move her?! How do we get her up?! How do we get her out?! My crewmate checked her over and medically she was OK, apart from some dehydration. Clearly we couldn't manage on our own and our equipment wasn't large enough or strong enough to cope with her size.

I phoned up control and had a discussion with our clinical support team. They decided to send HART (Hazardous Area Response Team) and an officer for starters. The benefit of HART, is like firemen, they tend to come on mass! There is normally six of them on their big truck so at least we'd have hands! Ideally we needed a removal company, pest control and a deep cleaning company but we don't always get what we want! Within 20 minutes or so the troops had arrived and like us, were perplexed as to what to do.

The officer, rightly said we needed the bariatric ambulance to convey her, so he arranged that. Due to the lack of bariatric ambulances and the ever increasing number of obese people who need them they can only be requested by an ambulance officer, so they are not used inappropriately. Meanwhile, the head scratching continued. Eventually a plan was made!

It involved clearing the hallways for starters! Unfortunately, there was no space to put any of it! We ended up having to line the pavement with it all. Almost an hour later, the bariatric ambulance had arrived, a path was cleared, dead rats had been found amongst other unidentified dead creatures and we were all filthy. As for the smell, what smell?! We'd been around it for so long, I was over it!

With a configuration of straps, sheets and a hoist we managed to get her onto her back, then to sitting, then onto a chair, out the house, onto the bed and off to hospital. We all then went for showers and a uniform change.

I've blogged about obesity at length and apart from saying how much this has cost the NHS in resources, I won't discuss the obesity issues. They are obvious enough. However, there are huge social issues and obvious failings in a flawed system. How can anyone be allowed to end up in a state like this? The council WERE aware of the situation and had done nothing. It was a council property and there was a resident clearly not able to cope. Why had social services not intervened? Time and time again we see people that have 'fallen through the cracks' in the system. I'm not being funny, but this isn't falling through a crack, this is simply not caring for people who need it. This hasn't happened overnight. This is the result of a lifetime of self neglect and being overlooked by the services that are in place to help. No one will be answerable for this situation. It's been left for the emergency services to sort out, again. No one should be allowed to live in such squalor, regardless of how obese they are, regardless of whether or not they are a hoarder and regardless of whether or not they can afford or want the help they need. Allowing anyone to 'fall through the cracks' is neglect. End of.

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