The Nation's Health + SUDI

Little Angel

WARNING: Some may find this post extremely distressing. It's on the subject of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and contains some very upsetting descriptions.

I remember when I first started training, being told about all sorts of things that we will see. Some rare, some common and some unheard of. The prospect of the sheer volume of things I would see scared me but having never seen anything, it was all a big unknown. I didn't know how I'd cope with the shifts, the people and the emotions of what is commonly touted as 'A job like no other'. I was assured that when the time came I'd be with a 'grown up' and all the training would come flooding back. I could only hope.....

It soon became apparent that the training did come flooding back, time and time again. As the weeks, months and years went by more and more things became second nature. My body got used to the shifts (kind of), I got use to the people (kind of) and on the whole my emotions were kept in check. You do get an emotional attachment to some patients from time to time. Some faces stay with you. Some are gone within seconds of leaving them. There is a constant emotional tight rope with me thinking that I'm either dead inside or too fragile to do the job. I suppose that balance is what has kept me grounded most of the time.

We'd been having a pretty non-descript shift. I couldn't begin to tell you the patients I had seen or what was wrong with them. That would be the 'at arms length' approach to ambulance life. The first real detail I remember of this day was my index finger reaching out and pressing 'Green Mobile'. Within a couple of seconds the job appeared on the screen.

"4 months old male, cardiac arrest, CPR in progress"

I felt the blood rush away from my face, my hands became cold and my heart rate doubled. I started imagining everything that could happen next. I pictured the child in his cot, his parents frantic. The only image of the room he was in that I could conjure was that of my own son's room. The thought choked me. Surely, this can't be. It must be an error. He must just be asleep. It must be a false alarm. I don't know why, but this felt different to all false alarms that have come before. This had a strange reality. I knew this was real. Then the radio started ringing.....

"Guys, I believe this is as given, we have another truck and an FRU on way but you are currently nearest. I have also requested the police."

My heart genuinely sank. I couldn't for the life of me remember the resus protocol. I knew it, but I convinced myself I didn't. I was the clinical lead. My crew mate was a student and was equally terrified. I tipped my bag upside down and started flicking through pages of A4 paper with recent clinical updates. I had about 0.3 miles to refresh my memory and then it was all on us.

We screeched into the road, the familiar waving met us at the kerb. This time it was all the more frantic. All the more desperate. All the more real. The child's dad, consumed with grief, overcome with fear was begging us to do something before I'd taken my seatbelt off. I jumped out, grabbed some bags and ran into the house while trying to find out what had happened. A woman, who I assume was the grandmother was stood in the hallway clutching on to two young children. Tears were pouring down their faces. A shiver ran the length of my body. This is as real as it will ever get. As I neared the top of the stairs I saw the mum. She was kneeling on the floor, desperately trying to breathe for her beloved baby boy.

"Please, do something!!" she cried at me.

Her voice alone broke my heart. I'd never experienced such pain and hurting. I could imagine the desperation and her thought process but without living through it, imagination won't ever come close to reality.

I looked down at the boy. He laid there lifeless, peaceful, like he was sleeping. He was dead. His short life had come to a tragic end and I knew there was nothing I could do. There was nothing anyone could do.

"Do something, please!" she wept. "My beautiful baby boy. I'm so sorry, I'm so so sorry."

In that split second I made a decision that I have questioned over and over, ever since. I held the mask to his face, filled his lungs with oxygen and started CPR. I lifted his lifeless body off the floor. With him lying on my forearm and using just two fingers I continued the chest compressions down to the ambulance. My crew mate followed with the bags. The FRU had arrived by now. He saw me rushing out of the house with the baby, and opened the back doors for me. The mum and dad got on board and we left. We had been on scene no more than 2 minutes. I looked at the guy on the FRU and just shook my head slightly.

As we drove through the streets all I could do was go through the routine of CPR and ventilation. I felt in that moment it was what the parents needed to see. They needed to see us do something. Anything. I struggle with the morality of giving false hope though. Was I prolonging their pain? Who am I doing it for? Was it me who felt the need to do something?

"I'm so sorry my baby boy, I'm so so sorry I wasn't there when you needed me, I'm so sorry my little angel."

Despite my best efforts, tears started trickling down my cheek. I couldn't help but see my son lying there, imagining what I would do in this unimaginable situation.

The doors swung open, I picked him up and ran into resus. A small team was waiting. They'd been warned by control we were coming with a patient who was deceased and all our efforts were for the benefit of the family. I handed over the brief history I had. He was put to bed at 6pm. At 9pm, mum went to check on him and he wasn't breathing. Here we are now.

The doctor told them he had gone. He tried to do so in the most compassionate way he could. Maybe that's why I started CPR. Because I couldn't have that conversation. I couldn't be the one to break that news. News they most likely already knew. Maybe I fell into the trap of having to do something. I don't know. To be honest, I didn't know anything. I couldn't process what was happening.

I left. It wasn't until I got back to the ambulance that I realised we were all crying. We sat there in silence for a good ten minutes. What could we say? What could we discuss? There is no job more distressing, more tragic and more emotional. What we were feeling however, pales into insignificance in comparison to what the family were going through. The more I thought about it, the less I was able to comprehend the impact this event would have on a family. It literally didn't bear thinking about.

The police arrived and asked us some questions, and then one of our officers arrived. We were told once we were finished at the hospital we could go home if we needed to. We all did. I didn't come in for another week. I couldn't. We were offered support and counselling if we wanted it but I turned it down. I suppose the last thing I wanted was to talk about it. I didn't want to think about it. I wanted another job. I couldn't do this again. Ever.

I did come back. I still don't think I could go through that again. I know there is a chance I will and that will have to be dealt with if and when the time comes. Those parents have to not only come to terms with the loss of their child but somehow be strong for their other young children. The least I can do is carry on offering that false hope where it's needed. It would be selfish to walk away.

You cannot quantify events like these. Saying 'these things happen' doesn't do the loss any justice. I felt like a fraud moping around, feeling sorry for myself. This will be with that family for the rest of their lives. There are no answers that can be given. No meaningful explanations as to why. Nothing will make it better. The words 'I'm so sorry my baby boy' will forever be with me. I will always remember their little angel. I know she did nothing wrong, the doctors know she did nothing wrong, but I also know she will probably take a feeling of blame with her to her grave. I imagine all parents would. I know I would.

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