an ambos life

Well that was more than weird

Well that was more than weird

Resting back in the front seat of the ambulance, I peered solemnly into the pizza box again. It was torture not to begin eating it so I sought solace by picking off a small olive. The smell was magnificent. The driver’s door opened and my partner climbed in to join me. He had chosen a hamburger and chips. My nose told me immediately he had clearly nodded yes when the vinegar bottle was offered.

No sooner had he sat down in the driver seat than the radio alarm tones destroyed the magic. Four eyes rolled skyward and two mouths groaned in perfect unison. I should have started eating the pizza when I had the chance. Instead it now faced the ignominy of being pushed between the front seats for some future, likely microwaved time.

The callout was to a patient in cardiac arrest and not very far away from where we were. The patient was easy to find when we arrived. She was the one lying in the driveway of the address given surrounded by the people frantically waving at us. The woman had collapsed moments after arriving home. Her neighbour across the road had seen this and immediately called for an ambulance. He ran to her and had started pretty effective cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

The neighbour, unsurprisingly, looked spent by now so I took over the chest compressions from him whilst my partner attached our defibrillator to her chest. He pushed shock and her body jerked in response. Back to chest compressions again. A few minutes later a second ambulance arrived and in the meantime we kept our efforts going.

Then a weird thing happened. I had just taken over another turn at the tiring compressions so felt a little refreshed. Pushing again with a little extra vigour, the lady’s arm rose slowly up and touched mine. Excitedly I assumed that we ‘had a save’ and she had her pulse back. Though I was totally surprised, I stopped the compressions. As I felt for a pulse the arm flopped limply back to the ground. There was no pulse. The cardiac monitor confirmed that her heart remained steadfastly stopped.

Puzzled, I started pushing her chest again. Shortly after, her arm moved again. This time I didn’t stop knowing now it was just the compressions and not her own heart. I had heard of this but had not seen it for myself before. Surprised I might be, prepared for this I now was. What I wasn’t prepared for was for her eyes to open. This was startling and more than a little disturbing. Her head even turned slightly. As bizarre it seemed, I spoke to her. Of course she didn’t answer. The eyes just stared past me. This went past weird again and became freaky.

Since I was leaning forward to push her chest, my face was near to hers. Those eyes were disconcerting. I quipped to my partner that I wished I had some of those eye masks for sleeping like airlines provided.

Our efforts continued. More shocks, intravenous drugs, a tube pushed down into her lungs. We weren’t at the point of futility and giving up but that wasn’t far off. Then another surprise took us. My partner said he could see a pulsing movement in her neck. We all focussed on the spot closely and sure enough, there was. A moment later confirmed that there indeed was a pulse to be felt. That pulse stayed there all the way to hospital and was still going strong when we left.

The next day we were back at the same hospital having dropped off another patient. Curious, we asked the triage nurse if she could tell us what happened to the lady from the day before.

Checking on the computer, she told us that the patient had been admitted upstairs onto the intensive care unit. Well that was sort of good news even though being in ICU was ominous. Still, I had assumed that she would not have lived for long given how long we worked on her for.

Curiosity was aroused. Yes, we agreed, let’s go upstairs and check on how she is going.

The ICU was its usual busy, noisy, alarm beeping self. Sometimes it is hard just to get anyone’s attention. A nurse was making some notes at a nurse’s station. I apologised and asked her if she could help us. She was good about it and knew something of our lady. Telling us what she could, she pointed to the room behind us and said that she was in there. And she was awake. We should go in and say hello she suggested.

We looked at each other gobsmacked. This news was not quite as weird as yesterday but very surprising. She was not only alive but apparently she was sitting up talking. I’m not big on going back to meet people afterward. My preference is to just quietly go about my next business.

This lady didn’t give us that chance though and made the decision for us. Her voice, one I had never heard before, called from the room beyond.

“I know your voices,” she called, “please come in here.” Hesitantly we shuffled into the room. As a serious attempt at understatement of the year, she looked different now that she was alive again. I didn’t really recognise her. She had picked us though. As we talked, she recalled things we had said during the resuscitation. She was specific and eerily accurate. It wasn’t when the pulse had returned, no. It was well before that during the time when she was still most definitely in cardiac arrest. She didn’t describe anything like an ‘out of body’ experience but was still very clear. She knew our voices and had heard things we had said. At some point I must have mentioned my forlorn pizza as she asked me if I had managed to eat it.

Then she laughed and said, “All these bright lights. I wish I had one of those sleeping masks in here too.” This was beyond weird and freaky and well past bizarre. We were casually recalling a conversation with someone who had been dead at the time but still had better recall of it than we did!

Jeff Kenneally 

paramedic prehospital emergency ambulance

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