It was a late shift that started like all of the others. Briefing, tea, doughnuts brought in by a “miscreant” who had erred the previous shift and some of the usual banter. We hit the road to get in amongst the rush hour motorists who commit “bread and butter” traffic offences and then subjected ourselves to the customary abuse, denial, woefully thought out excuses and begging – the result of having the “audacity” to stop them and point out the error of their ways.
As the shift progressed I picked up radio traffic from a part of town that I was covering – a report of someone having fallen from a cliff. I wasn’t required to attend the incident but headed towards the area in case there was a need for an ambulance escort. My mind was full of thoughts for those in attendance as well as the casualty – not a nice job to be at I thought to myself. Little did I know how this incident was going to unfold to have a profound effect on me for the rest of my life. Another traffic unit took on the task of doing the escort – I was in an unmarked vehicle which realistically was not suitable for such a job. I monitored the radio – it was a fast escort – an indication that the casualty had suffered the most serious injuries but nevertheless was still alive. Again, I considered what the life of that person was going to be like in the future should they managed to survive. In an instant, the life of another had changed beyond recognition and I truly felt for them.
I carried on with my patrol – stopping suspect vehicles or vehicles carrying suspicious-looking individuals. Sometimes it could take me an hour to travel the length of a main road through the town as there was plenty of “passing trade” to deal with. The law of averages dictates that at some point someone is going to get arrested and sure enough, it didn’t take too long for me to “hook” someone who thought they could bluff their way out of being arrested for driving while disqualified and drink-driving. My nearest custody suite couldn’t accommodate my “guest” so they were taken a few miles down the road to one that could. Having booked them into custody and gone through the station procedures I left my quarry in a cell and went off to do the paperwork.
I got myself a cup of tea and started preparing the case file. The less glamorous side of the job but a necessary evil nonetheless. I completed form after form, dotting “i’s” and crossing “t’s”. My radio started making noises that indicated someone was calling me directly. I duly answered and was told that I had been delegated to carry out a task that required my urgent attendance at the local A&E department.
I asked for the brief. It transpired that I was about to become involved in the cliff fall incident after all. The victim was a teenager in their mid teens. Response officers had located their mother and taken her to the local hospital that I was literally down the road from and where the victim had initially been taken. They needed someone with FLO skills to attend and then take her to a hospital over 30 miles away that specialises in neurological injuries where the victim had subsequently been transferred to. It all seemed pretty “routine” up to this point but then the tone of the control room Inspector’s voice changed. “You need to get her there before they turn the life support machine off”.
In an instant, my mind was occupied with identifying the route I needed to take – it wasn’t a journey I had made very often and at night things always look differently. I didn’t have a sat-nav system in the car so this was going to be a case of flying by the seat of my pants. This was, without doubt, going to test my driving skills, people skills and job experience to the full. I jumped in the car and got myself to A&E within seconds. I met the response officers who introduced me to mum and a younger sibling of the victim. Needless to say mum was distraught and wanted to be with her child. It also became apparent that she hadn’t been told just how bad things were. And there it was. It was going to be me to break the awful news that no parent should ever have to hear. We didn’t have the time to find a family room in the hospital for me to sit her down with a box of tissues and provide the kind of support that we do with those who have been bereaved as a result of a fatal collision. I decided this had to be done delicately en route to the hospital. I guided mum to the front passenger seat and her son to the seat behind. She didn’t need me to explain we needed to get going quickly. Her maternal instincts of wanting to protect her offspring were in full flow.
I got into the car and asked if either of them had any concerns or problems with travelling at high speeds. I reassured them that both me and my car were up to the task in hand and in doing so managed to get a little smile from her that was her authority for me to do whatever it took.
I set off through town, blue lights and sirens on. Me and my car had a job to do and there was no margin for failure. This really was life and death stuff and although I didn’t know this lady the sense that I owed it to her to get her to her injured child before they died was overwhelming. I explained that her child was critically injured and on life-support. I told her that the doctors were very concerned about her child’s brain injuries but made the conscious decision not to tell her that they intended to switch off the life support machine. It wasn’t going to help and I could provide that support to her once we got to the hospital and she had been told by the medical staff.
We got out of town and left the comfort of the street lights to the pitch black of the dual carriageways and motorway. The signs we passed were a blur only highlighted by the blue strobe lights bouncing off them. I was driving the car to the limits but being mindful of others and potential hazards. On the motorway I looked down at the speedometer – the needle was as far round as it would go – 155mph. My eyes were out on stalks and my mind constantly assessing, re-assessing and preparing for the unexpected while at the same time making conversation to reassure my passengers that they were in safe hands and that the victim was getting the best possible treatment at the best possible place with the best doctors in their field. I wasn’t going to lie to mum but nor was I going have her world fall apart until we got to the hospital.
We reached our destination in 19 minutes without incident. I smiled inside myself at this achievement while looking at the brakes which were stinking hot. I took mum and sibling inside and up to the ICU. Sadly, I had been there enough times to know the way without having to waste time or asking staff for directions. We got to ICU where the staff were amazing. I discreetly spoke to the nurse who had accompanied the doctor. I told her that mum was unaware that they were going to turn the life support machine off and then mum went through the doors with the doctor and nurse. I knew that her world was about to be turned on its head and would never be the same again. In the natural order of things our children are supposed to out-live us and being a parent myself this was heart-breaking to see. I waited and waited. Normally I get impatient if I’m not “out there” doing the job but not this time. I had all the time in the world for this woman and anything she needed I would try to get for her. A while passed and Mum came back through after having said her goodbyes. I had the wheels in motion to get additional family support to the hospital for her. I sat and talked with her about what had happened earlier that day. It transpired that this young teenager had been somewhat troubled and was unable to cope with the challenges that life was throwing at them. They hadn’t fallen from the cliff at all – it was a considered act, a desperate act and one that there was no coming back from.
After I had done all that I could it was time to go. The drive back seemed somewhat surreal. I was going home to “normality” and all the while behind me was a family stuck in a living hell. By the time I got back to the nick the shift had ended some time ago and everyone had gone home. I packed my stuff away, turned the lights off and headed home myself. It took a while for me to get to sleep that night.
A couple of months later I received a card amongst the pile of detritus that usually finds its way to me through the internal mail system. I opened the envelope and began to read it. It started with an apology for having taken so long to write and went on to identify the sender. It was from her. She mentioned everyone from the emergency services who had gone to her child’s aid. She was overwhelmed that the emergency services did so much for people that they didn’t even know – at the drop of a hat. She went on to thank me. She was thankful that people like me existed and seemingly came from nowhere to help and for getting her to the hospital so quickly – allowing her to spend that invaluable time with her child just before they turned the life support machine off. She re-lives that journey every time she hears a siren since and was grateful for the compassion I showed her both during the journey and afterwards at the hospital. Then the most profound bit. Her child’s organs had been donated to five other people who were in dire need of transplants and that as a result they would go on to live healthy lives. I was choked. The bravery that this woman had shown and the fact that she had taken the time to write to me was humbling and I will never forget her.
I can’t under-estimate the importance of my work that night. Nor should those from the other services who did their bit. We have undoubtedly the best emergency service in the world and the ability to make profound changes to the lives of those we serve and protect. We’re not glory hunters – we’re just special people with a desire to be there at the right time and the right place to make that difference.
The government are doing their best to privatise as much as they can which means that at some point the ability of the emergency services to provide this kind of caring work will cease. There are no forms that I can fill in nor are there any stats that can measure my productivity that night but I’m pretty sure the public got excellent value for money that day. Nobody should be profiting from the misery of others and the government should not be allowed to try.