The Nation's Health + Paramedic

Twas The Night Before Christmas

Christmas is that time of year where you get to see your family and friends and be merry! You get to over indulge, share gifts and sit at home in the warm, watching your kids enjoy the magic that Christmas brings! Being Christmas eve, they have the excitement of leaving treats for Santa and his reindeer. It's the time of year where we all have our own traditions and I think that is what we all look forward to most. Well, by we, I mean those who are not working. Christmas this year consisted of 12 hour late shifts so I would be enjoying none of the above. It's one of the sacrifices we make to do this job. In all honesty, I hate it. Every single minute of it. I don't want to be at work in the slightest and it is part of the job I didn't think about when applying. There is only one thing worse than being stuck on an ambulance over Christmas, and that's being stuck on a car. Yes, I want you ALL to get the violins out and throw sympathy in my direction. And chocolate. An absolute tonne of chocolate. Anyway.......

Full of joy and Christmas spirit (not Baileys), I headed out of the garage to my first standby point. After only 5 minutes of sulking I was heading through the Christmas eve traffic on way to my first job.

"52 year old male, chest pain"

The words ' Chest pain' don't provoke any emotion in me anymore. As someone who works on the car it is my most common job. More often than not there is no chest pain at all. It is probably the most abused term within ambulance triage. People know chest pain will get an ambulance immediately. If they cough and it hurts, chest pain. Panic attack, chest pain. Headache, chest pain. Got a cold, chest pain. Rib injury, chest pain. I could carry on forever. Within about 2 seconds of seeing a patient I know if it is proper chest or not.

I pulled up at the address and headed in. Due to the patients age it was feasible it was genuine so I took everything I might need. I headed up the stairs and into the bedroom. There he was, lying on the bed. I knew instantly he was having a heart attack!

His skin was ashen, he was pouring with sweat and had central, crushing chest pain that came on at rest, which was radiating into his jaw. A classic cardiac story with a classic cardiac look was as good as a blood test and ECG! Sure enough, within minutes I had the ECG in my hand and it was one of the biggest heart attacks I've ever seen! The type of heart attack know as a 'Widow Maker' and elevation on the ECG known as 'Tomb Stoning'. I think you'll agree, both are ominous descriptions!

I requested the ambulance on the hurry up and then explained to the patient exactly what was happening and what was going to happen now. I gave him a variety of drugs to help with the pain and as soon as the ambulance arrived we were gone and off to the heart attack centre. The cardiologists were waiting for us and he was wheels straight into the cath lab. As we were transferring him he went into cardiac arrest.

He was shocked immediately and was back with us within seconds. We had an anxious wait while the doctors prepped him for his angioplasty. He arrested a further three times during the procedure but eventually the clots were removed, stents fitting and the good news was passed to his family that he will be fine. Job well done by all!

Back in my car, I recommenced my sulking and the hours ticked by slowly. Apart from the first guy, no one needed hospital. I made referral after referral and with about an hour to go was clock watching until midnight. Then I could wish myself a merry Christmas and go home. Or not.....

"63 year old male, cardiac arrest, CPR in progress"

It wouldn't be Christmas without a cardiac arrest! I pulled up on scene seconds after the ambulance, grabbed everything I could and headed in. Sure enough, lying on the floor was our patient. The relatives were still doing good CPR so the crew had got them to continue. The patient had vomited so his airway was soiled and that became the priority. We suctioned and secured the airway, got the pads attached and shocked him.

The crew was one of my good friends so working together in a situation like this was easy. No egos to deal with, we each just did our think. IV access was obtained and subsequent shocks were given.

"I've got a pulse!"

Back in the room!! We set about stabilising him. His heart was in a very unstable rhythm so we couldn't move him quite yet. It was only now that I realised the sheer volume of family that was in the room. There must have been about 20 of them. This is why I hate working Christmas. I don't like to be part of the reason peoples christmas' are destroyed. I don't want to be there when people die. I don't want to have to give bad news to people during a supposed joyful time.

We did his ECG and it showed another massive heart attack. Back to cath lab we shall go. We got him off the floor and into the ambulance. The hospital was alerted that we were coming and we left. On the journey the patient begun rejecting the airway. On one hand this a good thing, because he's getting function like his gag reflex back. On the other hand, a vomiting patient with a soiled airway is difficult to manage in a moving ambulance. Unfortunately, he started vomiting again so we had to remove the airway. He still wasn't breathing sufficiently on his own so we inserted nasal airways and between the two of us, ventilated him until we got to hospital.

Same old routine, arrive, handover, to the cath lab, angioplasty, blockage cleared, stent fitted, high 5's all round. We had missed midnight but we there were smiled a plenty in the back of the ambulance. It was now Christmas day, we were late off and covered in vomit but none of us cared. I suppose we gave the best Christmas present that family could ask for. Puts my sulking into perspective really doesn't it?!

With the ambulance cleaned up and paperwork done we headed back to my car. I waved the crew off and started to head back to station almost 14 hours after I started. At least the shift was over!

"General broadcast, all mobiles. Need an ambulance and an FRU for a cardiac arrest. Can any unit please press Green or come up on priority. I repeat, we need an ambulance and an FRU for a cardiac arrest. Can any unit please press Green or come up on priority. We currently have no one to send."

I was one mile away from it and it was Christmas. Fuck it!

"Red base, I'm currently returning to base x-ray but if you have no one else you can send it to me. I'm feeling festive!"

"You're a legend, on it's way to you now"

"64 year old male, cardiac arrest."

Here we go again......

To cut a long story short, we got him back (again), massive heart attack (again), off to cath lab (again), angioplasty (again), blockage removed (again), stent fitted (again). Happy family (again). What are the chances?!

* * * * * * *

UPDATE March 2014:

One of my biggest gripes about this job, is the lack of follow up of patient outcomes. We may get people back from the dead and get them to hospital 'alive', but very often, that isn't maintained. Obviously going into cardiac arrest is a HUGE event for the body and survival relies on a number of factors, none more important than early CPR. Without that, there in no chance at all. IF, there is early CPR then there is still a huge set of circumstances that will lead to survival. An ambulance quickly, quick defibrillation and then being taken to the right place for definitive care. Even then, the is such a long road ahead before discharge that the chances are slim.

In the ambulance service, we generally count a successful resus as heart beating on arrival at hospital and as we rarely find out the outcome of the patient journey, that's where our thinking stops. I left these patients on Christmas Eve, pleased that we had done our bit and given their families some hope to cling onto, but that's all it was, hope. No one knew how their recovery would go, least of all me, and to be honest, since writing this post, I hadn't given them a moments thought. Just writing that makes me feel a little cold and heartless but such is life!

That is, until I had the most extraordinary day! I turned up at a familiar address on a 'chest pain'. I couldn't place it, but as soon as the door swung open I recognised that family! It was my first patient from that day! He was discharged three weeks later, had lost a lot of weight and was on the mend! He thanked me for saving his life, but wanted another favour! An ECG and a trip to hospital and I was more than happy to oblige! I was so chuffed! You never hear the good news and it makes such a difference! High fives all around!

Anyway, at the end of my shift, I returned to my ambulance station to find a letter in my pigeon hole.


"Dear Ella,
It is with great pleasure that we send this letter to you as recognition of your hard work on 24 December when you attended a 63 year old male who was in cardiac arrest. We are delighted to inform you that thanks to your efforts in resuscitating this patient, they survived and have since left hospital."Now THAT, is one way to send me home in a good mood! Two out of three ain't bad! I like to think the third one survived but perhaps I will never know. Here is hoping! At least two families definitely had a happy christmas!

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