I can’t remember my first Mountain Rescue job. I remember a search for a missing person while I was still training, but it’s lost in a blur of memories of trying to work out how to search for a missing person. I remember my first casualty, having chased her over the mountain all night, giving her the attention she so desperately seeked.

What is etched into my memory are two ambulance jobs I did as a first responder – my first red call, and my first cardiac arrest.

The first red call I had came in the middle of the night. I’d gone to bed, my uniform next to me, the phone on the bedstand and the lava lamp left on, casting a red glow over the bedroom. I jumped out of my skin when the phone rang.

“Hiya, it’s Ambulance control, can you take a red call please?”

I get the address and jump into my clothes, heart pumping, adrenaline rushing around my body. Still half-asleep yet completely awake, I drive off. 30 year old male, difficulty in breathing. Traffic is quiet, I catch the lights on green and I’m driving down the street looking for the address when I see the ambulance. Deflated, I realise I’ve been holding my breath and start breathing normally again.

I pull up and get out, gloves on, ready to assist, just in case – but the crew is stood in the doorway talking to the patient. I walk over and hear the conversation.

“So you’ve had the sore throat for 3 days, and it’s hurting when you swallow…” He turns and glances at me, nodding, acknowledging my presence. “…and the GP says it’s tonsilitis. Does your mother have a car? Right, well she can take you down to A&E if you really want then, but it’s a Friday night, you’re looking at 4 hours of wait. We’re very busy tonight – if you can do that we can get back to helping people who are seriously ill, like heart attacks.”

I catch the undertones, the patient doesn’t. Within minutes I’m filling in my paperwork. The crew watches me, I’m obviously not familiar with the layout.

“First job?” he asks. I nod.

“That was irritating.” I nod towards the house. “Tonsilitis?” I’ve just about managed to get my hand to steady enough to write. I’m not sure anyone’s going to understand what I’ve written.

The technician rolls his eyes. “Get used to it. About one in ten jobs actually need us, five are pissed the other four are hypochondriacs or timewasters.” There’s a shout from the cab interrupting the cynical view of the world I’ve just become privy to. “We’re off. See you later.”

The ambulance rolls away and I’m left in the street dealing with the disappointment, the adrenaline, the futility, the tiredness. I turn around and head back to bed.

My first cardiac arrest came as a surprise. I’d been responding for months, now used to the dross and inability to actually help a lot of the patients – my Mountain Rescue medical training gave me skills and knowledge that I could not use with the Ambulance service – not in our protocols. I was in the kitchen when the phone rang – around 9am on a Saturday morning. I grabbed a pen as I answered the phone, looking around for a piece of paper and only finding the whiteboard on the wall.

“Hi, got a red call for you.”

I write the address down on the calendar, and write “card arrest” next to it. I blinked. I read the address again. “Er…that’s about 500 yards from where I…from my current location. Show me mobile – count to 10 and show me on scene if you want, I won’t bother calling to report that.” I’m already out the door unlocking the car.

“Oh, ok, thanks.”

Control rings off and I briefly consider running there, but with all the kit….I start the car and drive down the road, turning the corner and pulling up at the pub control had sent me to. The door is closed, I see no way in. I have my kit with me, I’ve not had a chance to calm myself down in the car, my heart is pumping and there’s no way in! I head for the side door and it’s open – I run up the steps, tripping on the top one and almost flying headlong through the door. I blink as I stumble into the gloom, the curtains drawn and I see figures by the bar – the landlord is on the phone.

“Yes, he’s here now…”

I rush over – there’s a woman on the floor, late 50’s I’d say. I rip my kit open, defib out and lid open, get it up and running. Tuffcut shears make short work of the underwire in her bra – I hadn’t intended to cut it, but it’s off now along with her blouse. My mind is racing, and the defib shouts at me in an American voice. “Tear open pads. Remove pads and place on chest.” I’ve already done that and it’s curtly announcing “Analysing rhythm” as I’m getting my Guedel airway out, oxygen fitted with the BVM.

“Start CPR.”

I swear under my breath – it’s not shockable. I don’t even consider whether I should start CPR – I’m already underway now and I have no room in my protocol for recognition of life extinct. The airway is in – easier than the dummies I’ve practiced on. I put my hands on her warm skin and start compressions. As I’m counting my only thought is that the feeling of my hands on her skin reminds me of chicken.  It’s an odd thought and I place it to one side, giving two breaths after 30 compressions. I hear a rib crack and then a second one. I have a rare moment where my brain can catch up and in that moment I get a thought – I can’t hear a siren yet, where’s my backup?

“Do not move patient, analysing rhythm.” The defib interrupts me and I sit back for a moment catching my breath. “Continue CPR.”

My hopes for a succesful rescuscitation are dropping and they hit rock bottom when the landlord opens a curtain to get me more light – I can see what looks like a bruise on part of her body – but at last! I hear a siren approaching. I tell the landlord to go out and windmill for the paramedic, probably an RRV I think.

I look up as he walks in, it’s a friend of mine. He grimaces as he sees her and recognises signs I’ve yet to learn.

“You can stop CPR mate, she’s long gone.” he says quietly, kneeling down and pointing out the purple blotches I’d seen. “Post mortem staining, she’s been down a while.” I sit back on my knees, shaking a little from the adrenaline. He takes over, he’s seen this all before. I can’t stop staring at her, the memory of those two ribs cracking under my hands still vivid.

The police arrive and talk to me and the Paramedic. He asks if I’m OK. I just nod and fill in my paperwork. I pack up my kit – I need a new set of pads and contact an Ambulance officer to get a set and he arranges to meet me that day. I stand outside, packing my car for the moment, stood in the bright sunshine as villagers wander past wondering what’s happening – why all the police and ambulance. I head back inside and take one last look before talking to the Paramedic. No, no chance of reviving her. She’d been down a while. Probably a massive heart attack, probably dead before she hit the floor. How old? 42. Yeah, she looked older. Smoked. He makes sure I’m ok and I head off to get some new defib pads, still shocked by how surreal it all feels. When I finally get back to the house, there’s still a note on the whiteboard with the address and “card arrest” next to it. I wipe it off as I phone control to tell them I’m available for calls again.

Prepared as my introductory post for The EMS Handover Carnival.

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3 Responses to “My First Emergency”

  1. Mally says:

    I wonder how long your backup took? I’d imagine not as long as you mentally thought it was!

    Off out on an RRV tonight in that there Bristol, hopefully see some interesting jobs..

  2. […] “So you’ve had the sore throat for 3 days, and it’s hurting when you swallow…” […]

  3. MarkUK says:


    I’m also a First Responder and yes, I still remember my first cardiac arrest. It was a “?K2”, or possibly dead. Without the experience I just deployed the AED and then, on command, started CPR. I’m not sure what the community paramedic thought, but he went through all the procedures. It’s actually very likely that the patient had arrested 20-40 minutes earlier and had received not CPR.

    I’ve been to a few since then (why do I always get 90 year olds with a terminal illness and there’s no way of resuscitating them?). I’ve also had a couple where the patient had been dead for 15-20 hours before the call. Waiting around for the police to complete their survey can be interesting but takes me off the stack for too long.