It takes seconds to save a life. Precious ticking passing seconds.
When I was taken by the Police to hospital, they gently handed me over to hospital staff. Then I was taken into a small room and offered tea, to soften the blow of the bad news they had to tell me. Then Melanie’s possessions were brought in, in a simple brown envelope. Amongst the few items removed from her was her watch, which I had bought for her only recently. The hands still gently sweeping an arc around the face. I sat and stared at it, trying to take in the enormity of what had just happened.
Now, with the passage of time, about three weeks to be wildly imprecise, I’ve been able to talk to some of the various people involved in Melanie’s ‘rescue’ and now realize just how important each few seconds of their individual involvement has been. And what their total effort amounts to.
As Melanie lay on the tarmac, unconscious, facing skywards, and the second hand swept around her watch, many hands passed across her face too….
The woman who was with her, only a few seconds behind as they both ran through the rain to an outbuilding, didn’t stop to ponder, but quickly reached over Melanie’s crumpled body and banged desperately on a window to summon help then phoned 999.
Melanie was unconscious but breathing at that point. Her colleagues rushed outside in response to the banging, one immediately ran across the street to the Fire Station, the other dropped to his knees and established Melanie was still breathing. But then she suddenly stopped so he immediately started CPR and vigorously fought to oxygenate her. He did not hesitate either, so a few more seconds were saved.
His colleague meanwhile had found all the fire personnel outside having just completed a morning exercise, the team alert and fully clad in all their kit. He did not have to try to establish where the entry door was, nor have to shout to try to alert the firemen: they were there, only 75 meters away, ready to respond. They grabbed breathing kit and ran, a firewoman and two firemen sprinting desperately, and began urgent oxygenation and CPR, almost cracking Melanie’s ribs in the process. Because they were there and ready a few more seconds were saved.
The time was around 11.30 maybe a little later, but as it was just before the lunchtime rush-hour, the roads were clear and the ambulance arrived in minutes. The ambulance staff ‘shocked’ her to restart her heart. No response. Three attempts were made, the last managing to elicit a weak and scrambled rhythm. A frantic blue-light dash back to ICU. Several more seconds saved on the still quiet road.
She was immediately connected to life support equipment, sedation, and a ‘chiller’ to reduce body temperature and hopefully reduce brain swelling as a consequence of the lack of oxygen.
Melanie’s quick-witted colleagues had fought to pass the baton of time to the fire staff, who passed it on to the ambulance staff, who handed it over to the critical care team.
Seconds. Just a few, here and there, saved. You’d normally not notice them. They’d fly past unremarked upon. But their total accumulation on that day? They amount to a life, saved.
Melanie has some short-term memory issues, will have to re-learn to write, but everything else so far seems intact. She is very very lucky. She has said that a priority is to visit and personally thank all the folk involved in giving her the second chance that very few of us will enjoy. And to help ease her back into her real life our son’s Primary School, who have been hugely supportive to us, have invited her to come in and give a talk to the Primary children on her specialist subject area, paleoecology, so they are all looking forwards to a morning of microscopes, pollen, fossils and dinsosaurs. Melanie has a gift for making the past come alive, and underlining its importance in shaping how we are today. How appropriate.
No cause for this episode has been found despite exhaustive tests. As a precaution she has been fitted with a small subcutaneous defib unit that will monitor her heart and if she needs a ‘jump start’ it will kick in and take over. It can be ‘interrogated’ via wireless and information about her daily heart rhythm uploaded to a server via a separate box connected to the ‘net, which can alert the hospital to abnormal activity. Her internal device can also ‘buzz’ her to alert her that a slight heart abnormality has occurred so she may contact the hospital for assistance.
With this fitted her life should return to something close to normal. Time alone will tell. But she has it now to find out, time.
Her bedside is littered with photos sent by her colleagues as I’d suggested, and they have proved hugely valuable in jogging her memory, and in confirming for the nursing staff that her memories of her ‘past life’ are correct. Only simple photographs, but their unassuming ‘stories’ held the promise of recollection. There is power in an image that we can only guess at, they gave Melanie a glimpse of where she needed to go, and allowed her anxious colleagues to feel empowered as contributors to her recovery. This event has made me reappraise (yet again) this ‘craft’ we too often take for granted, and what it can enable us to do.
Melanie was able to sit up in her bed yesterday and put her arms around one of her colleagues portrayed in those pictures, one of the first few on the scene whose prompt actions in administering CPR as she lay on the ground probably saved her from either serious and irrecoverable brain damage, or possibly death. She was able to hug him tightly.
“What can I say….” she said softly, emotionally “….what can I say……just…..thank you.”