Lyndsay Murray, Stephen Watchman, Laura Lidster, Gemma Wanless and Peter Rhodes

Thank you for saving my life

Operational staff talk about what it's like to reunite with a patient after saving their life

Have you ever wondered what it’s like for our operational staff when we receive a call for a patient in cardiac arrest?

We spoke to two ambulance crews and a call handler about their experience after they recently had the pleasure of reuniting with a man whose life they saved.

The patient, who has asked not to be named, collapsed at his home in December after waking up feeling sick.

After hearing the commotion, his wife quickly dialled 999, where she got through to NEAS call handler Gemma Wanless.

Gemma calmly talked the patient’s wife through CPR until the arrival of ambulance crews Peter Rhodes, Laura Lidster, Lyndsay Murray, Stephen Watchman, and Alan Hewitt.

Working together, the team shocked the patient five times with a defibrillator before his heart started beating again, where they then transported him to the Freeman Hospital for two stents to be fitted to his blocked artery.

And thanks to the swift actions of all involved, he was out of hospital in time to spend Christmas with his family – “the best Christmas present ever” according to his wife.

They have now been reunited with Gemma and the crews to thank them in person for saving his life.

The patient’s wife said: “At first I was panicking as I couldn't get enough access to help him because he lay against the bathroom door but due to Gemma’s calming voice and clear instructions I got in and started CPR.

“I was so relieved to see the ambulance crews. They simply took over and within seconds had moved him to another room and began continuing CPR and, when he was stable enough, stretchered him out to an ambulance.

“Due to their calmness, efficiency and quickness in treating my husband he survived. We are forever grateful to them in giving him a second chance at life.”

The experience from a call handler’s perspective

For Gemma, this particular patient was extra special, as this was one of her first calls as a 999 call handler, having already spent nearly a year taking 111 calls.

Gemma: “Because I was new to 999, every time I got the beeping in my ear my heart would race wondering if it would be a life threatening call. Actually, when it does happen, your training kicks in and you go into auto pilot, arrange the ambulance and go to the CPR instructions to help the caller. It’s important that you stay calm and that you’re assertive to make sure they’re able to help the patient the best they can while the crew is travelling. This patient’s wife did really well and no doubt made a real difference to the eventual outcome.

“We stay on the phone, supporting the caller, until the crew arrives so it’s such a relief when they get there and you know the patient’s in safe hands.

“However, it’s also a bit disappointing because that’s where my involvement ends and I’m on to the next call. You want to know what’s happened, to know that they’re ok.

“To be able to meet this patient has got to be one of the most amazing experiences of my time at NEAS so far. I feel so proud of the part I’ve been able to play in his story.”

What it’s like for the crews?

Much like Gemma, this patient is extra special to recently qualified paramedic Laura, who was in charge of her ambulance for the first time, under the watchful eye of experienced paramedic Lyndsay and clinical support worker Stephen.

Laura: “I had just qualified after finishing my university course and had spent eight weeks of preceptorship training with Lyndsay, which gives you that extra bit of confidence before being on your own. I was just coming to the end of this so Lyndsay put me in charge with her support.

“It was scary on the way to the job but you don’t really have time to think about it, you’re thinking about the equipment you’ll need and what you’ll do when you get there.”

Lyndsay: “You know you’re about to walk into potentially the worst moment of a person’s life so it’s important you have a fresh head when you get there.”

Laura: “When we arrived, the patient was in quite a small room so my first decision was to move him into the kitchen where we had more room to work. Looking back, that was definitely the right decision.”

Stephen: “My role as a clinical support worker is to be hands on straight away doing chest compressions and ventilating the patient with a bag valve to keep the oxygen moving around the patient’s body while the paramedic sorts the defibrillator and drugs.”

Lyndsay: “Once we established the patient was in cardiac arrest, we called for a back-up crew for an extra pair of hands. Cardiac arrest treatment is a real team effort, there’s so much to do in terms of treatment and we also need to support the patient’s family, relatives aren’t just forgotten about. Relatives are also able to tell us more about the patient’s medical history to help us treat them.”

Peter: “As soon as we arrived we got straight on to assisting Laura and Stephen with chest compressions. The patient had already had four shocks and received a fifth just after we walked in. It was after this fifth shock that his heart started beating so we started preparing to get him out of the house.”

Laura: “Getting a ROSC was the best feeling! But you’re still not out of the woods at that point so it’s a case of getting him on the stretcher and away to hospital as soon as possible for further treatment. Then you hand them over to the hospital and your job’s done; everything goes at 100mph then you just stop. This is where we then have a debrief, where you just chat about the job and what you think went well and whether you think anything could have been improved on for the next time.

“We did actually ring the Freeman later that day to see how he was doing and four days later I was back there with another patient so I quickly checked in on him, but nothing beats being able to see him again now looking so well. It’s the best job satisfaction ever.”

Peter: “He’s very lucky to be alive. We don’t get very many ROSCs but it’s an amazing feeling when we do, it’s the reason we’re here.”

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Copyright 2011 North East Ambulance Service Trust

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