Sunday, April 19, 2009

beneath the cherry tree

A man has collapsed and died from a suspected heart attack in a local park. Two paramedic crews attended the scene but were unable to revive him. A popular family man in his mid-forties, he was a well-known character in the area, active in local charities and a familiar figure at the local pub. Friends and acquaintances described him as a friendly, witty man with an encyclopaedic general knowledge, always willing to put himself out for others and ready to help wherever possible. An Inquest is scheduled for later in the week.

I flatten the paper, push it across the table to my wife and tap the paragraph.
‘That’s the guy we went to.’


The cherry tree is out in blossom, its branches freighted with thick masses of light pink flowers.

A man is spread out on his back beneath it, his legs and feet stretched across the little tarmac pathway and the rest of him on a grass verge, the clothes cut away from his chest, a paramedic kneeling beside him with her arms locked, rocking up and down on his chest, and another paramedic with a mask clamped to the man’s face, rhythmically pressing oxygen into him. We duck beneath the blue and white police tape stretched across the path.

‘Hi guys. Thanks for getting here so quick,’ says the paramedic on the mask.

We take over their positions whilst they give us the story.

‘Okay guys. This man had been seen sitting under the tree by various people around lunchtime, nothing obviously wrong. A guy who works in that hardware store over there had passed him on his way back from the sandwich shop, slumped forwards and snoring, thought he was just the worse for drink. That was about one twenty. The guy came back outside the shop for a smoke at about one forty, noticed the guy flat on his back halfway across the path. He called the police to report him as drunk. The police responded on low priority to a D&D, getting here just on two. Found him apparently dead. We got here about five or eight past. So unfortunately no CPR attempted at any point until then, which must be at least half an hour, probably more. The guy’s asystole but warm, pupils fixed – but he’s young, so we went for it. What’s the time now?’
We carry on for another twenty minutes, bustling through a resus protocol that lacks for nothing but the one thing that would have made a difference: timeliness. Nothing changes, and nothing we can do can stop the man from riding out beneath us on a relentless line of asystole. We stand up, stretch the cramp out of our legs. Clear away the empty tubes, the oxygen line, airway adjuncts, pads and empty cartons, stuffing it all into clinical waste bags.

Two policemen come over to take details and discuss the next phase. They have his wallet and phone. They have numbers to call.

A scattering of cherry blossom drifts down across all of us, catching in our hair like confetti.


loveinvienna said...

Another beautiful life/death post Spence. The image in my mind of the paramedics trying to resuscitate the poor man whilst blossom petals drift down around you is a very powerful one.

I just hope heads don't roll because the Police treated him as a drunk as opposed to seriously ill.

Liv xxx
PS. I meant to say in the last post, congratulations to Fiona :)

Spence Kennedy said...

Hi Liv,

We were surprised that the police didn't send us along to this one first - for the usual reason that sometimes what the public think of as drunk is actually something else. But having said that, 99% of the time it is just alcohol. A shame that in this case it was serious. The fact that they didn't do CPR before we got there was by the by, really. I think he was a lost cause even when they turned up on scene. All in all, bad timing for the guy - and sometimes that's all it is.

uphilldowndale said...

A very sad tale beautifully written

Mummy x said...

Unrelated to this topic but you do get a mention ;-)

Mummy x

Michael Morse said...

Hello Spence,

Nice job on a sad story. Here, once CPR is started we have to continue until a medical doctor pronounces the patient dead, usually after transport.

Spence Kennedy said...

Hey Mike,
Thanks for that.
Here, a paramedic can call a resus after 20 mins of ALS; an EMT can recognize death if it tallies with certain criteria (ie obvious signs...)