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Burning man

Posted Nov 21 2008 4:26pm
Nine emergencies – all went by ambulance (but not all deserved to).

It was busy today from the outset. Some days are just non-stop for no reason. The traffic was abominable, mostly due to the fact that the junction of Whitehall and Parliament Square was dug up, closing down two of the three lanes. In rush hour, this caused tail-backs that stretched right up to the Strand and every road in every direction from the Square itself. Other holes were being dug – even holes that had been dug months ago. Why do they do that? Surely once you’ve dug the hole and done the work, it’s finished.

I guess it’s about money – one contractor digs a hole to do something (water pipes), then another re-digs for electricity or phone or fun…everyone gets paid to cause misery on the roads and slow down the emergency services.


A two year-old boy was having a convulsion but the crew and I couldn’t locate the address because the mother kept changing the location details. We drove up and down the same road, passing the address several times, looking for a house name that was wrong, then a junction that was inaccurate, then a landmark that was irrelevant until, finally, she gave enough information for us to find her.

She’d been panicking and couldn’t get her facts in order during the call – she’d even told us that the child was unconscious but he wasn’t; he was lying of the floor of the flat, staring at us all as we entered. He had been convulsing earlier because he had a high temperature. She’d given him Calpol for it and now he was quiet but alert.

He was taken to hospital for checks and I went back towards my own area. Before I got there, I was asked to go and assist another FRU pilot who was alone with a combative 40 year-old who’d had a fit in the street. I’m always happy to assist colleagues in this way and so I sped off to back him up.

He was standing in the busy road with the man, who was refusing to cooperate with any of the obs my colleague was trying to carry out. He clearly didn’t know he had been fitting and was still confused but he wasn’t aggressive and he didn’t look like a threat – he was just a little agitated. It was still better to have two pairs of hands on scene, however, because he needed to be balanced on his feet.

The ambulance arrived a few minutes later and we persuaded him to go with the crew to hospital. He was beginning to realise what had happened and thought better of arguing the point now.


Another person was fitting at Trafalgar Square, this time a 40 year-old female had collapsed suddenly, falling onto her face in front of her alcoholic friends. She was very combative and a crew and police officers were on scene already. I helped them get her onto the ambulance but did nothing more than that.


Then I raced to a high security location for a 36 year-old female who’d collapsed but it took so long for the armed officer to clear the gates for me that the ambulance arrived and I became surplus to requirements.


A cup of coffee later and a call for a 39 year-old man with burns to his hands after he’d come into contact with an unknown chemical when he’d touched a door handle. This seemed bizarre and I asked for more information. As I drove towards the scene, I was updated and told that he now had burns to his face because he’d touched it. I asked for the HART team to attend, so that I could get expert help if there was a dodgy substance involved and when I got on scene, I was taken to the large kitchen of the building.

A man sat in a chair in the kitchen’s office, colleagues around him, with red, swollen eyelids, a puffy face and blistered, cracked hands. It looked like an allergic reaction but he assured me that his hands and face were burning and that it started when he touched a door handle. He also denied any allergies or similar events, so I had to go with it as it was.

I applied watergel to his hand and face (giving him a little mask with eye-holes) and covered both hands with clean plastic bags to protect them. He now looked like an alien.

I was concerned about the fact that a chemical may be lurking around which could cause burns to other people, so I waited for HART to show up so that I could have the place checked out but they didn’t come. Instead an ambulance crew arrived and they told me HART had been cancelled because it was felt there was no need for them. Somewhere along the line, my communication about having them deployed had gone awry.

We walked the man to the street and into the ambulance. The crew decided to take him immediately to a specialist burns unit – despite the mask and gloves I’d given him, the redness and blistering appeared to be spreading to his arms (which he’d touched).

I waited for the HART team because I requested them again and two paramedics turned up from the unit to check for incriminating evidence. They went through the rubbish that the burned man had been handling and found an Acetone container – this was the only thing that could explain his injuries but he’d need to have handled it directly and frequently for this to be solely to blame. It was a mystery.


A 50 year-old man was vomiting blood in the street but I didn’t see him because the awful traffic, slowed by the rain and road works, meant it took me a little longer to get on scene. The crew, who were nearer to begin with, dealt with him.


Then a 30 year-old man who collapsed onto his settee complaining of dizziness, DIB, lack of coordination and a fast heart rate. He had a history of this and when I arrived he slumped in and out of a hyperactive display of breathing and motion. I didn’t think he was lying about his condition and it didn’t help that his mum kept supporting what he was doing but I think he was exaggerating things a bit because his vital signs, apart from a slow heart rate of below 50 at times, were all normal.

He was a fit man who played football regularly but even with that taken into account, his heart rate shouldn’t have been quite so slow all the time, so I was sure something was going on with him, I just wasn’t sure what. When he was taken to the ambulance his ECG appeared to show ventricular hypertrophy but I couldn’t nail it because his T waves gave nothing away and were mostly invisible. He did take amitriptyline for depression and this may have been a contributing factor.


After another downpour I was sent to a 65 year-old male who’d collapsed outside a tube station. He had fallen flat on his face without warning and bystanders described him as being unconscious for a time. There was no evidence of fitting in what they said.

At first, he was difficult to rouse then he became a little more aware, although not alert. His nose had been damaged, possible broken by the fall and blood was dripping out of it. I cleaned it up and put an oxygen mask on his face but that quickly became contaminated as blood leaked into it, forming a little pool at the bottom – it had to be removed.

The MRU arrived to assist me and an ambulance drew up a few minutes later. I explained the situation and we took him to the vehicle and checked him out.

‘I don’t remember falling’, he said as he began to make sense of his world.

I left the crew to it and headed for base, hoping to get away before anyone else dialled 999 in my area but, as with all my plans for early release, I received a call to a 47 year-old man who’d fallen and had a head injury. I knew the address – it was a hostel, mainly for homeless alcoholics, many of them from East Europe.

A crew had turned up alongside me and the patient was sprawled on the pavement outside the hostel. He’d fallen because he was too drunk to stand but he was completely oblivious of his injury, which amounted to a bump on the head and a bruised face.

He was Polish and spoke no English. His alcoholic friends attempted to communicate with him but somewhere along the line they ended up having an argument in Russian, so we steered him back to the here and now by standing him up and walking him to the ambulance. He turned and waved to his mates as if he was a celebrity, then he boarded his medical taxi for the trip to free bed and healthcare land; another life saved.

Be safe.
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