Monday, 31 January 2011

The Last Journey

Oh how I hate these kinds of jobs. Hangings never go well. The patient usually is in a very bad way and they are often at home, found by family members, which adds to the intense emotion of an already tense situation. So, I am very wary of this job. Also, the fact that I haven't been out on a call for many weeks doesn't diminish my concerns. I mentally run through the contents of my bag. Did I replenish the drugs after my last call? Do I have enough syringes? Are the batteries in my laryngoscopes still live? There is nothing I can do about these things now, as I drive into the car park to a block of flats near to where I live. This is not a particularly selubrious area, and I am comforted by the number of blue lights and police vehicles I can see parked up. I jump out and grab my gear.

Ok, number 63. Where is number 63? It's dark, and despite the presence of what looks like most of the emergency services in London, I can't see a living soul. Oh,a nd surprise, surprise: it's raining.

Erm, what now? I tried a tentative "Hello?", but got nowhere. Then, from a balcony above, I hear some murmuring. This sounds promising. I move towards the stairs leading up, and see, in very small type, the words "15-63". I start making my way up the stairs.

Now, for those of you who don't know me, I don't really do stairs. Lifts are good, escalators I can cope with. But not stairs. And not this many. And not with a 25kg bag on my back and a 5kg monitor in my hand. But, this building doesn't look like there is going to be a lift. Or escalators.

I stumble on to the 4th floor, and call out again, rather breathlessly. This time, I am answered, and ushered into a tiny hallway, and my first glimpse of Jake.

Jake is lying on the floor underneath a loft hatch. He is being held down by two policemen, whuile the boys in green tend to him. He is agitated, and has the marks of a noose around his neck. He has, according to his flatmate, fallen from the loft, with a rope around his neck. The rope held him for mere seconds, before he fell the last remaining feet, to land in this tight space between front door and the bedroom.

I think quickly: he is currently maintaining his airway, but is very agitated. He has clearly suffered some hypoxia (lack of oxygen) making his brain not function properly. He needs intubating and ventilating, and getting to a trauma centre.

We are 4 floors up. If I tube him now, it will be incredibly difficult to keep ventilating him all the way down the stairs. The likelihood is that any brain injury from his hypoxia will only be made worse by the journey down the stairs, not better.

So, we need to get him down awake. But he's not the most cooperative of gentlemen. Not at the moment, anyway. He's moving all his limbs, the lower ones quite agressively, so he hasn't broken his neck. But we still need to be very careful in how we move him.

I decide that he needs to come down awake, and we strap him to a scoop stretcher, before making the precarious journey down with him. Well, when I say "we", I mean the ambulance crew. I go on ahead to set up my equipment and drugs for the inevitable intubation when they bring him down.

It's a good 15 minute journey down the stairs, and I am completely set up by the time they bring Jake down to me. I need to reassess him, just so that I have a baseline set of observations. Pulse, 96. Blood pressure, 130/75. Oxygen saturations, 98%. Glasgow Coma Score, 15. Sorry? Let's just check that. Yep, he is fully conscious. Hmm. I decide that tubing this one may be a little more than he needs. I'm not sure how he could have improved so dramatically in such a short space of time, but I'm not arguing.

He still has had a major insult, and needs to go to a Major Trauma Centre. It would be inappropriate to ignore the low GCS initially, nor the mechanism of injury. I look at my watch: 22:30, T-1. T being the day that my local Major Trauma Centre opens its doors 24 hours a day. Yes, tomorrow at 8am, I can go to my local at any time of the day or night with my patients. Not tonight, tomorrow. Tonight I'm off to the Royal London. That's a looooong way. Over 45 minutes. Still, I have no choice.

What I do have a choice in is how I get there. The patient is going in the back of the ambulance. I'm not happy to have the crew take him there all on their own, not on a 45 minute journey with a man who, 15 minutes ago, had a GCS of 6. But, if I travel in the back with them, then someone will have to somehow get me back to my car. However, if I follow in my car, I can still jump out and help if they run into trouble en route, yet I will have my car available to drive back immediately.

Decision made, we package the patient securely, and I start on my last journey to the Royal London.


  1. Wonderfully written as always. Welcome back to blogging - really great to read through your experiences again.

    'Last' journey to the RLH?! Perhaps not...

    Any idea on the outcome?

  2. The day after this case, St Mary's opened 24 hours a day. I will be taking all my patients there from now on. So, no more long trips to RLH for me.

    As far as the patient is concerned, he had no physical after effects from his ordeal, and is being managed by the psychiatric team. Who knows whether I will see him again, but, if I do, he will be going to St Mary's!