Someone recently asked me how I coped with the death and dying when I was in the Ambulance Service. I spoke in a previous post about how the crew depersonalise jobs. It’s something you learn the importance of very quickly.
Often a crew will be required to give a police statement regarding a death if a patient’s death is unexplained (usually the case, until a doctor writes a death certificate or a post mortem is carried out). One of the questions always asked is:
“Would you recognise the patient again?” to which I always answered “No”.
The patient could be lying in the next room, but I had blanked their face from my mind, I had to. Occasionally the patient would be someone we had dealt with a number of times, one with an ongoing illness, someone you had built a rapport with. On those occasions there was sadness, and the family usually appreciated your presence.
On one occasion, I took my old schoolmaster into hospital for a planned stay. I didn’t recognise them initially but, when I did, the respect came back as I remembered this kind person who had helped shape me and my school mates. Little did I know this would be their last journey, but I’m glad I was able to pay some kind of respect before they passed away.
The terminally ill patients were frequently inspiring. They knew the life they have left was short but they spent their time preparing and preparing the people around them. “Live every day as if it’s your last” one of them said to me. Something I still need to remind myself of constantly. Those were the ones who lived life to the full, who often saw so many positives, even when facing their own end.
“There’s always someone worse off than you”. Words from another terminally ill patient. Words that kept me going often during my time in the service.
Some didn’t know death was coming – cardiac arrests, RTCs… The patients who had passed away before we arrived were the ones that were easy to blank out. The ones who we worked hard to save, only to have the A&E staff make the difficult decision that it was hopeless to continue, those were difficult to blank. While still being able to depersonalise the job, it was still hard to forget the effort we put in. Sometimes there was anger – anger at the patient for dying, anger at the hospital staff for giving up…anger at ourselves for failing to save a life.