One of the things I like most about being a Special – about working for the police full stop – is that you never really know what you’re going to get.
There are times when I’ve went into work on a Monday and within half an hour I’m on the phone with a DI about a stabbing or a high-value theft. Or I’ll be on shift and we’ll get one of those calls that gets your adrenaline going.
And so it was on this particular late shift. Hadn’t expected anything out of the ordinary, possibly some minor scuffles from drunks falling out with each other. We were on mobile patrol, just in the process of pulling over a woman for trying to drive her car with one hand holding her phone and the other holding a coffee, when a call came in….
‘Any units, Grade One call, male collapsed in the street, members of the public giving CPR, ambulance en route.’
DB, the cop I was working with, exchanged a look with me and hit the blues. We were literally just around the corner and it took us less than a minute to pull up outside a group of people gathered around a figure lying on the pavement.
I debussed right next to the group who immediately let me through. Before me, an elderly gent, seemingly unconscious, what I could see of his face was puffed up and one eye was swollen shut, blood oozing from a wound to his scalp and blood and vomit running from his mouth. A woman was performing chest compressions whilst another woman was on her mobile and was relaying instructions.
I knelt beside him and got a clear view of his face. It was blue. His face was blue, all over blue. One eye swollen shut, the other glazed and unblinking, looking straight up at the sky.
I’m not in any way, shape or form a medical professional, but I have a few pals in the business who’ve passed on some pearls of wisdom. The blue face was one of those, it meant the male was cyanotic, and that meant something had gone badly wrong somewhere.
The woman carrying out compressions identified herself as a nurse. I nodded and marveled at my state of zen like calm which tends to overtake me in dicey situations. I pinched the mans earlobe and shouted at him. Nothing. I really didn’t like the glazed look in his open eye, so I took out my torch – a niftly little number which I got from the US for a great price when the pound was strong against the dollar just after I started. I switched it on and shone it in the mans’ eye. Nothing.
I put away the torch. A later check of CCTV showed that I shook my head at this point though I can’t remember doing it. The nurse carrying out compressions was getting pretty knackered by this point so I took over. DB had the bystanders phone and was talking to the ambulance control room.
‘You OK with those compressions mate?’
‘Yeah, I’m good just now bud.’
‘OK, cool, just let me know if you want me to take over. Ambulance is en route.’
‘Cool, cheers, can you tell them he’s cyanotic, not breathing, not responsive?’
DB passed this on whilst giving me the raised eyebrow that foretold of a future piss-taking for use of a technical medical term like ‘cyanotic’. What can I say, it stuck in my head that night I was in the pub….
A few minutes later the ambulance arrived. The crew hurried over with their bags of tricks and I handed over to them. Having a look around, there was a fair crowd gathered. A young woman was sobbing quietly off to the side whilst her other half hugged her. The nurse was speaking to another cop who’d turned up, and DB was on the radio to the control room. I dusted myself off and started speaking to folks, finding a witness who’d seen what happened from the start – the male had just collapsed in the middle of the street. There were a few people all trying to speak to me at the same time. At this point two more cops turned up – one I knew vaguely, an old-school cop who was pushing 30 years in the job. He did something I still find pretty unreal.
He tapped me on the shoulder to get my attention.
‘Hey mate, you needing us to speak to these witnesses?’
A cop of almost 30 years experience asking me what I wanted him to do? Thinking about it later, I reached the conclusion that he knew exactly what to do, certainly much better than me, but he did it to show there were other cops there to help and to give me a bit of a confidence boost.
I nodded and thanked him, and took a statement from a young guy who’d stopped to help. He was quite shaken as well, but was a decent guy, and had done the best he could. I told him this and thanked him for his help. He apologised for being a bit shaken up.
‘Sorry, I’ve just never seen anything like it, not used to dealing with this stuff like you guys are.’
I didn’t have the heart to tell him that this was the first time I’d had to do any first aid related stuff of any note, and it was also the first time I’d been to a call about someone collapsing in the middle of the street (drunks/druggies notwithstanding).
As this was going on the ambulance crew had placed the male in the back of their wagon and were frantically working on him. One of our guys drove the ambulance back up to A & E so they could continue to do so, and once they got him in A & E the staff there took over.
About twenty minutes later they pronounced him dead. Speaking to the doctor later there was a pretty good chance he was completely gone by the time DB and I got there. I suspected as much when I saw him, blue and staring at the sky. Again, what never ceases to amaze me is how calm I seemed, like it was an everyday normal occurance to fight a losing/lost battle to save a mans life. Although throughout it all the little voice in the back of my head was saying
and so on and so forth. You get the picture.
When we got back to the station, the sergeant had a chat with us, thanked us for a job well done, made sure we were OK. ‘You did your best lads, but it’s just one of those things. He would have been the same if he’d dropped right outside A & E.’
The email I got a few days later from one of the bosses said the same thing. ‘Despite your best efforts, the gentleman unfortunately passed away….’
And the folks who heard about it and spoke to me about it said it as well. ‘You did the best you could mate, there wasn’t anything else you could have done that would change anything…’
They’re all right of course. We couldn’t have done anything different. And I’m pretty much OK with that now, storing it into the memory bank of experiences I’ve had in the cops. At the time it wasn’t so simple. The next week or so was…strange. The face of the gent who died kept popping up in my head. I was quietly miserable – this had been my first chance to actively and directly save a life. Perhaps the only chance I would ever get to do this. And I had mucked it up and someone had died.
It’s a pretty appalling feeling. It stayed with me for a couple of weeks before it started to disappear into the background. I was helped enormously by a couple of cops who I spoke to some time later – one had been an ambulance technician in a former life and the other had been through some kind of combat medic course in the military and had then spent some time in Iraq and Afghanistan. Each of them independently told me the odds for CPR working are poor – they had each carried out CPR numerous times and it had worked on only two or three occasions between them.
When folks with that much training and experience tell you this it does make things easier to deal with. It’s still something that occasionally pops into my head, and the face of the gentleman is something I won’t forget. I tried though, as did the ambulance crew, the staff at A & E, and the members of the public who rushed to help a stranger.
It’s something you just have to learn – You can do your best, but sometimes it doesn’t make the slightest bit of difference.
Next time though, I’m gonna let DB get out of the bloody car first….