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Laughing Gas

Posted Oct 13 2010 9:34am
As the nights draw in, the hours of darkness rise as the temperatures fall, and I find myself longing back to the long, warm, days of summer.

*****

A Sunday evening, towards the end of the school holidays, and the kids are making the best of the last of the late sunlight. The park is full of children, some accompanied, some not, and the sounds of the joys of the summer break fill the air. The park is a large expanse of green with a large play area in the middle, a few trees surround it giving sporadic shade, used mainly by the parents enjoying the respite whilst their children soaked up the freedom.

The sound of playing children is shattered by a scream.

A mother runs to her child.

An ambulance is called.

*****

We're greeted at the park gate by an anxious looking man wildly waving his arms. The air conditioning has failed, so the windows are wound down, and as we draw nearer, the sound of a distressed child can be clearly heard. Even from 200 metres away.

"He came down the slide Superman style", he starts, even before we've opened the doors.

"And then he just screamed. Now he can't move his arms." Suddenly the realisation dawns on him that if he wants us to treat the child, he needs to move away and let us get out.

The scream sounds even louder now we're out of the ambulance.

"Well, at least his airway's OK", says my crew mate, pointing out the obvious.

We grab our equipment and start to make our way to the playground.

Harrison sits on his mother's lap, sobbing and screaming intermittently, his pain seeming to make him shrink in his mother's arms to half the size of his nine years.

The description of the event leads us to check his neck first, then his arms, where we find no injury and no pain.

We hand Harrison the entonox and explain how it works. "This is a special gas to help with the pain. It might make you feel dizzy, and it might even make you laugh. That's why they call it laughing gas!"

I try to hand it to him, but he won't move either arm to reach for it, so we ask mum to hold the nozzle for him. After a few short moments, the anxious, pained look on his face eases a little, and he's able to speak for the first time and tell me where it hurts. I feel one collar-bone, and then the other, and find them both to be probably broken. No wonder then that Harrison won't move his arms.

Superman style, head first down the long slide, his arms out in front clearly meeting their Kryptonite in the form of the solid ground.

Harrison starts on the gas, and after about ten minutes, he's calm and relaxed enough to let us put one arm in a sling, as his mum cradles the other one. I check the gauge on the entonox to see that it has just about moved out of the green zone and into the long, colourless middle area. There's a long way to go before he reaches the nearly empty red section, and I doubt he'll ever get anywhere near it. I've never seen anyone other than a labouring woman come anywhere near to using a full cylinder of entonox.

Slowly and very gently we move him to the ambulance, the hiss of the cylinder punctuated by frequent yelps of pain as one or other arm moves even the smallest amount. Thinking about giving him something stronger for the pain, I ask Harrison's mother about any medical conditions he may have, and medications he takes, and any allergies.

"Yeah. He's allergic to morphine! We found that out two years ago when he fell of a trampoline and broke his leg."

Entonox it is then. The only needle for this kid is going to be the one on the cylinder gauge.

A few minutes into the journey, as Harrison drinks the elixir of pain-relief through an overgrown straw, he suddenly giggles.

"You OK, Harrison?"

"Of course I am!"

"Is the gas helping you then?"

He giggles again, on the verge of laughter, but too scared in case it hurts. "It's much better thank you. Can I go home now?"

Mother and medics laugh instead. "Not right now. You need to go to hospital to see what they're going to do to fix you."

"OK", he says, closes his eyes, and goes back to concentrating on the gas. I fill in the paperwork, explain to Harrison's mum what I think has happened and what will possibly happen after we leave them at hospital, and her husband follows behind in the car, refusing to let us out of his sight.

Harrison is relaxed, pain still evident as we hit the unavoidable pot-hole or two, but he seems a lot more care free about it. The cylinder hits the red zone just as we're pulling into the hospital. It'll leave us just enough to get him into the department.

"This may hurt a little as we get you off the ambulance, but we'll be as gentle we can, OK?"

"OK! Let's go!"

We unhook the trolley from its securing clasp on the floor, and get ready to move.

"Happy, Harrison?"

"Very happy", he says. "Can I ask you a question?"

"Sure!"

"Do you know what to do when you're happy?"

"Errr, clap your hands? But I don't think that'll be a good idea for you right now!"

"I know that", he answers back, with a voice that's a kid's way of saying I'm not stupid, y'know!

And so, drunk on a whole bottle of entonox, he sings his way off the ambulance and into the children's department.

"If you're happy and you know it, clap your feet!"

Laughing gas indeed, except it worked on everyone.
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