Monday, September 07, 2009

notes on a drowning

A kitchen brittle with light, its neat domestic scene laid open in the afternoon, bright aluminium and white ceramic. Raw wood.
‘I drained the water from the bath,’ the husband whispers as we hurry through. One of my bags hooks a stool over; it crashes to the tiled floor.
‘Don’t worry,’ he says. ‘I’ve got it.’
His wife is lying dead in the emptied bath, legs hooked up on her right side, feet and hands wrinkled and grey from the water, eyes half opened, like someone figuring distance. Her teeth are clamped shut, her lips grey blue, drawn back.
I lean over, grab her under the arms and lift her up into a sitting slump.
Rae gives me her wrists, then hooks her under the legs.
We top and tail her out onto the laminate flooring. The flopping, landed lump of her. Her head bops back on the floor. I start compressions. Her ribs crack for the first three or four. Bloodied water pumps out of her nose.
The Community Responders go into the kitchen to talk to the husband, replaced by an ECP and another paramedic. Some more of the family have gathered in the kitchen. We hear them as we work.
Tubes and pads and cannulas, blankets and inco pads, torn boxes, plastic lids flipped and thrown. Lines and leads everywhere.
Time passes. Someone takes over the compressions so I can pick my way over the chaos and out to organise the exit. I have to go through the kitchen. I want to touch the husband on the shoulder as I pass but he shrinks back from me. They all do. I am death passing through their kitchen. I feel them close back around my absence.

I figure that the best route is through the french windows in the living room and out through the garage. No other angle will work for the scoop. I make the ambulance ready, take the trolley down on the lift, put it into position and then go back inside along that route to make sure everything is clear and ready for the move.

I hear the defib metronome counting out compressions in the bathroom, tagging the seconds as they flow implacably through the house.

Beep, beep, beep goes The Little Red Beacon in the Void.

Beep, beep, beep.

We parcel her up and carry her out.
The second ambulance takes the husband.
I do compressions en route.

The ECP in the back with me manages the airway.
‘It’s been a lovely day today,’ he says, holding the suction catheter with the insouciance of a dentist. ‘Nice and hot.’
He smiles up at me. I shake my head to clear my face of sweat. The sunglasses I had pushed up onto my hair and forgotten about, clatter off into some corner.
The aspirator jug bubbles with bloody water.
‘Good compressions,’ he says. ‘You’re clearing her lungs nicely.’
The ambulance barrels on.


As I’m coming out of the resus room I see an elderly couple standing hesitantly by the main doors. The husband’s parents. I take them with me to the relatives’ room, where the husband is waiting. The elderly man lags behind, bewildered, stopping and looking around.
‘Don’t let’s lose Bob. He’s ninety-two, you know,’ she says.
She takes his hand, I take hers, a chain of us through the department to the relatives’ room.
The husband stands up as we come to the open doorway. The foam seats around him in the room are so brightly purple it looks more like a children’s soft play area. But there are leaflets in a rack, a print on the wall, flowers on the table.
‘Can you tell us? Is there any hope?’ the elderly woman says to me as I let go of her hand. The husband looks at me. The question he dared not ask.
I know the woman has been declared dead already, but I say: ‘The doctor in charge is on his way. Let me get him for you.’
Back in the resus room, the doctor is having an earnest discussion close in with a junior doctor.
‘Ah,’ he says to me. ‘Just two things: patient’s name, husband’s name.’
I tell him. He rehearses them, then slaps the junior doctor on the arm.
‘Come on,’ he says, ‘This way.’ And they walk out together, shoulder to shoulder.


cogidubnus said...

What can I say? You've, (not for the first time), brought tears to my eyes...Write the book Spence, and I'll buy it...

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks v much, Cogi! And all I can say is - if ever I did manage to get anything into print (but don't hold your breath), you wouldn't have to buy it. I'd give you a copy, and a free gift (to be decided, but probably a pen) for all the support and encouragement you've given me. :0)

Anonymous said...

You took me there. Shock. Despair. Desperate hope. (Maybe, maybe she'll ...) And then desolation, sadness, and finally, courage.

Stunning, Spence. Your talent continues to grow. I'm with cogidubnus -- I'd buy your book in a heartbeat.


helen said...

did she actually drown, or just die whilst in the bath. If she drowned...well, how? Would there have been some other event to precipitate it?

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks Wren!
(another complementary copy set aside - which is like offering 10% of nothing, but it's the thought that counts...)

Hi Helen
I don't know what happened. I suppose she could've suffered a heart attack or an ep fit and then subsequently drowned. I don't think it was an OD - there were no signs of that. She was certainly very waterlogged, so she must have been trying to breathe whilst under the water at some point. I can't imagine that you could fall asleep in the bath and not wake up once you slipped under the surface.

We might hear more in time, but then again, we're often left none the wiser.

Thanks v much for your comment.

loveinvienna said...

How very sad :( poor poor woman. And I feel for the young doctor - their first attempt at explaining, no doubt. Very tough...

I think we'd all like to make a contribution if you release a book, all the blood, sweat and tears must be worth a little something extra at the end of it all :)

Liv xxx

Gia's Spot said...

wow...........just that.
You write very well indeed!

lulu's missives said...

Hi Spence,
(wiping the tears away and remembering to breath again)....that was yet another heart wrenching post. Beautifully written. As per others, I'd buy your book too.
x jo

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks Liv!

But you've already made a contribution - keeping me going with all your comments. ;0) x

Hey Gia!

Thanks v much!

Sometimes I worry that I can't make it a lighter read. I tend to make everything terribly bleak and tragic (which of course it was in this case), and don't communicate the practical nature of the job enough.

It's so difficult to get that across without sounding insensitive, but you couldn't do this work if you didn't keep yourself very rooted and balanced with a ruthlessly practical approach and a few laughs.

It must seem sometimes that I go around at work in a big black cape with a scythe and a thunder cloud over my head. But actually I'm much more in the 'overalls/specialist removals' business - a very non-threatening, smiley Grim Reaper with a mug of tea and a friendly clap on the shoulder. Had a Death at home? Oh dear - we can help you with that - but anyway, I love what you've done with the garden - very eco. And is that a pelargonium?

;0) x

Spence Kennedy said...

Hey Jo!

I think our comments must have crossed at the same time, otherwise I'd have included you in that last one...

It's like I said to Gia, I hope I don't make you too depressed by these posts. I think I really must make more of an effort to get across the up-side of the job, not be too downbeat.

Maybe it's in my character to be a bit of a drama queen when I write about these things. I should swap this box of oil paints for some pastel crayons.

Lighten up, Spencer Tracy. Have a wine gum. Put your feet up on the dash. Pull faces at Rae. ;0} xx

Camilla Winlo said...

I don't think your posts are bleak and tragic - you invest your writing with such dignity (or failing that such character). Bleak and tragic implies that there's no hope - but while you're writing about moments and people in prose poems like these, there has to be hope - because you care and you make us care too.

I'd also buy your book.

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks v much Camilla. I'm glad you don't think the writing's too bleak. I try to be as honest as possible in each post and describe the incident as accurately as I can (whilst leaving out anything too identifying), even though sometimes what I'm describing is quite unpleasant. Still - I think it's better to be as clear as you can about these things. It certainly helps me stay sane, thinking like this, trying to be clear.

Thanks v much for your comment & support!

icecold said...

I don't think I took a breath whilst I read that!

I am in no doubt you will get some work published, you have a raw talent.

Keep them coming!

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks icecold!

I have tried writing other stuff - novels, stories, poetry - but without much success. I find it really difficult to keep a story going. It always ends up sounding so phony, so heavy-handed and contrived. At least writing the blog it feels as if I've got something to keep me on track. The posts are nice and short, for one thing. And then, because I'm trying to get across what actually happened, it feels as if I have a strong reference point, something to drag me back to the business of what went on. I suppose I feel more connected to the material, and maybe that's why it works better than anything else I've managed to write. Who knows.

I'm still trying to write other stuff, though. But the blog is great for keeping me going when the rest of it falls to bits, making sure I always have something to put out, regardless of how I'm doing.

And it's fantastic to get feedback like this, too. So - thanks again for the comment, icecold. I really appreciate it.

Henry said...

Another amazing post Spence! It's as if we're there with you. You should write the book. I know there are a few out already but what the hell; do it!

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks v much, H!

If I did do the book thing I'd have to make it a bit different. Maybe a pop-up version (one page that could work: me and Rae with the patient in the carry chair at the top of a very long flight of stairs). Or 3D (a room full of empty cans of beer, with the patient waving right at the back for that full 3D effect).