So I’m standing on a street corner with my bike, giving directions to lost tourists and trying to stop the local kids from switching the lights on. Suddenly, down the hill, two cops come careering past and “dynamically deploy” me to a job.
“Might need you, mate.”
Fair enough, I swing onto the bike and free-wheel down the hill while a police van hammers past me on the right hand side. A total of six cops hair down a wee alleyway between two shops at gather at the foot of a flight of stairs in a small courtyard.
“What’s the issue?”
“Disturbance call…but they say he’s smashed some glass, so there might be an injury too.”
I look up at the building, a traditional Edinburgh tenement. Well kept, clean courtyard, one window smashed out, a black eye in its face.
“You guys crack on. I’ll be here if you need me.”
They gather at the door, ringing the buzzer, shouting at the intercom.
“Police! Open the main door.”
The door buzzes open and they tramp inside, I can hear their footsteps zig-zagging upwards, back and forth on the staircase. Police calls with injured parties are usually a paperwork exercise, they can’t discharge an IP without having them medically assessed.
I casually remove my bike gloves, slide the bags out of the panniers and am gloving up when a lone set of footsteps zig-zags back down the stairs and a police officer arrives, white faced, at the front door.
He beckons me in and I follow him at a run up the stairs, onto a landing and left into a corridor. The room is about fifteen feet long, five feet across. There isn’t a clean patch of lino to be seen, the entire floor is covered in blood. It spreads a good half foot up the skirting board, splashes on the walls, shards of glass from the broken window float in it.
In the centre of this gory tableau lies a young man who appears to be doing backstroke while his left wrist squirts blood. His right hand is pinned to the floor by a cop, squeezing a tea towel onto his forearm.
I throw my bags beyond the scene into an open doorway (which doesn’t have claret all over the floor) and unzip them, grabbing a couple of large bandages. The patient’s left arm has a wide, triangular hole in the centre of it, blood pours out until I pack the dressing into the wound, wrapping the bandage around it as hard as I can, then tying a second over the top of it. It holds for a moment before a dark red stain blooms through to the surface, spreads and stops, holding its shape as a circle on the dressing.
Fair enough, that’s almost controlled.
I realise, with a fair dose of alarm, that I’ve come running up the stairs without A. an oxygen mask and B. a tourniquet, both of them are in the saddle bag on the bike and not in the main bags. This is a major issue, since I have a tank of oxygen right here, but no way to give it to the man whose entire supply of blood is trying to escape. I’m also keen to get some IV access so that once the crew arrives we can start pushing fluids into him in an attempt to , you know, make him not dead and that.
Looking over at the cop on the patient’s right hand, I see that the pressure he’s pushing on the arm is making the patient’s veins bulge in his lower arm – better than any tourniquet I could put on, it should be a simple matter to slip an IV cannula into that.
“Open that bag and pass me a grey needle, please?”
The police officer by my kit unzips one of my bags and looks in bewilderment at the contents, I try to explain.
“On the IV board?”
He lifts the defib and hands it to me.
“Don’t worry, just pass it over here.”
I expect him to hand me the kit, but instead he slides the entire thing across the floor and into the blood puddle. That’ll take some cleaning up.
Snagging a grey cannula from the board, I move to stick it in the patient but realise I’m going to have to secure his arm somehow before I go waving sharp pointy things about. The traditional method is to shove the patient’s hand between your knees, but I’m crouching, loath to put my bare skin on the filthy floor.
There’s nothing for it.
I splosh my knees down into the bloodbath, wishing I was wearing long trousers and not cycling shorts. The cannula slides easily into his vein and we’re able to move to protecting him against shock, lifting his legs above his head and delivering high flow oxygen therapy via a bag/valve mask, rather than a normal non-rebreather.
The crew arrives, we bundle the patient down into the ambulance and run bags of fluid into him. They take off to hospital in the wake of a traffic car escort, leaving me with a conundrum.
On an ambulance, if you get tagged by body fluids, you’re normally going to the hospital anyway. You can slide your green shirt off, or scrub the worst of it off your trousers with wipes before heading back to station to change clothes. You’re in the vehicle, nobody sees you, it’s all terribly discreet.
Out on the bike, I’ve nowhere to hide. My bare arms and legs are literally dripping with blood and though the police pull a roll of paper towels from their car with which to mop up, I’m still a ghoulish figure that walks back to the Fringe office to clean up.
The next morning I see the cop who deployed me, she laughs when I tell her I’m ignoring her next time. I’m crap with names and I tend to fall back on “Alright, mate?” when I meet the cops who populate the Information Centre on the High St (free coffee, handy loos, my favourite stand-by point!). Regardless of learning names, however, it’s another step to a closer working relationship.