Oh no it’s you again
Jim came into my life in the worst possible way. I spent a day getting to know him and his wife in a hospital delivery ward. At the end of it, his infant, his first child to be, died during the birth and was never able to take even one breath. Fair to say that even if we had never met again, he had etched a permanent place in a few of my neurones.
But meet again we did. Jim worked in a foundry. He worked hard and wore his blue collar proudly. Being younger then and with a passion to change the world, I enrolled in a health and safety course a couple of years after our first encounter. There weren’t many of us in that group but one chap sitting up the front when I arrived was unmistakeable. I knew that grin and he knew me. At first uncomfortable, I spent many evenings that year drinking tea and swapping stories with him. We never really touched on our past shared experience. Jenny passed her regards regularly making me wonder each time if I made her think about it.
A few more years passed and he was back again. I was attending a callout in a factory where a man had been injured. I entered the first aid room and there was that grinning face again. He was the first aider and gave me a detailed handover and showed off his patched up handiwork with pride.
Then about ten years after first meeting Jim on that horrible day, all of these encounters paled.
A man had collapsed at work. We were told on the way there that CPR was in progress. Dramatic enough but still just another day at the office.
It wasn’t until we pulled up at the front gate that the familiarity of the place hit me. This was Jim’s foundry. So we were to meet again. No doubt his grinning face would greet us and he would have his first aid tabard proudly on. I was a lot more relaxed about seeing him this time. So it was still business as usual as a group of excited workers led us to where the collapsed man lay with his dirty overalls and boots lying on the floor encircled by colleagues frantically pushing on his chest.
It changed when I saw his face. It was Jim on the floor.
There was every reason to be optimistic. His colleagues had seen him collapse. First aiders had rushed to start CPR. An ambulance was nearby. I had expected to see Jim but not like this. Stay focussed. I seriously wanted a win this time. We had to.
His colleagues lined up to take a turn at keeping the compressions going. His chest lay bare to allow the defibrillator to do its job over and over. A grimy face and overalls stood holding an intravenous line. Everything looked as it should. Except for Jim’s face though. This wasn’t a patient. This was a man with whom I’d shared a terrible experience.
It must have been half an hour before it struck me. Usually around this point you accept that your best work has been fruitless and move on to fight another day. That is infinitely harder to do when it’s personal. I was suddenly faced with the horrible prospect of having to give up on Jim. How could this be happening to this family again?
We kept going a little longer. My partner looked at me as if he felt it was nearing time. Any other day I likely would have agreed. Although we had shocked Jim a number of times, we were seeing more than enough flat line on the monitor in front of us. I couldn’t believe once again I was to be present at the death of a member of this family. His heart gave one more sputter so we gave him one more shock.
As I looked glumly at Jim again something was different. His face wasn’t the same blueish horror. His ears were pink, at least sort of. Looking closely at his neck, a pulsing beat was clearly visible in a bulging blood vessel. Only one thing could explain this.
Almost losing my calm, I called for a pulse check. The eyes that looked back at me a moment later confirmed what I already knew. There was a pulse. But a pulse returning and going on to survive are not always the same thing. Pessimism fought optimism. Still he was alive the next day when I checked.
I should have expected the next part. I wear a name tag with my full name on it. Someone had noted and remembered it. They told Jenny my name after she had asked. The anonymity I hoped for was gone.
She wrote another letter. Jim was as happy about being the centre of attention as he was to survive. Of course he was. He spoke of our meeting again with great fondness. They were grateful we had worked so hard to save him. In Jenny’s inimitable way, her biggest concern though was that if he had not survived they would have once again caused me grief.
If he had died, she would have felt bad for the impact on me! It’s a good life that lets you meet people like this.
Jeff Kenneally www.prehemt.com
emergency, ambulance, prehospital, paramedic