02 May 2014

Saving a life

It’s not every day that something potentially life-changing happens. A few days ago, I’d been gone from work about 30 minutes when Alison got a 3-sentence phone call in which I identified myself, told her my location and instructed her to ‘come now’. When she arrived, I was shaking and covered quite liberally in blood (all of it belonging to someone else).

It had all started happily enough. I’d left work with the dog on her lead to go and collect the boy from nursery before heading home for whatever culinary delight was on the table. I was speaking to a potential client on the phone when an old lady in a wheelchair asked me if I’d call the police. As I hung up, I noticed that the children gathered around the old lady were scared of something. They asked me to ‘tell the police about the scary man near the swings’.

As someone else was able to make the call, I decided to wander a little closer towards the man as the children were obviously very frightened.

I must have been about 8 or 10 metres away from him when the side of one of the cars near him changed colour from white to too-fast-red. The guy stumbled a little then collapsed – and that was when I noticed the knife.

Finding the spot where that much bright, spurty blood had appeared from so quickly was vital, as it meant an arterial bleed... the kind that kills in minutes and seconds rather than sensible portions of hours and days. After taking his knife from him (in uniform you learn to disarm the casualty prior to treatment), I slid my hand up his sleeve to his upper arm. The blood was pulsing against my hand and no matter how hard I leant against the cut it wouldn’t stop. His jaw was slack, his eyes weren’t moving and his face was palid... but I knew he was still alive because of the flush-flush of blood against my palm.

By this time, an ambulance was on its way and a man asked if he could help. He took hold of my dog while I used her long canvas lead to wrap tightly around the arm until the bleeding slowed.

Sirens in the distance, then paramedics arrived to take over while two police officers arrive to do their bit with the knife, the public and any other fall-out. I can finally relax my grip after a really interesting bandage is applied that has a plastic cup fitted to one side, so that it places pressure into a puncture wound. Finally the guy’s on the stretcher, then in the ambulance being stabilised before the vehicle growls away with all the lights flashing.

The street is a mess. I realise just how much blood he’d lost...and how much of that had soaked into my clothes and skin. I gave my details to the officer, collected my dog, got into Alison’s waiting car and went – covered in blood and shaking – to collect the boy from his nursery.

Later the phone rings, and it’s the police to let me know that the man was rushed straight into surgery. Stopping – or at least slowing – the bleeding at the scene is probably what kept him alive.

I’m still jittery when I think about it, but I won that one. I’m a first aid instructor and an army reservist... but very little prepares you to deal with a casualty who’s inflicted such a horrid injury on themselves and is conflicted over whether they want to be saved.

I know this isn’t really a tech-comms posting, but somewhere I had encountered instructional materials that prepared me to do what I did today. They’d have been written by some long-dead scout master or an army surgeon, and they are memorable enough that when everything’s going crazy, the content comes to mind. Would your materials survive the ‘blood everywhere’ recall test?