July 18th, 2009

From the Archives…

Posted in The Job - Experience by 200

…of my police career.

The accident was what you might call run-of-the-mill. A motorist, on a journey to work he’d taken every day for years, lost control on a bit of ice & crashed into a tree.

When I got there a couple of other cars had stopped & one  of the drivers was talking to the crashed driver who was still in his vehicle, while another was stood on the verge frantically waving at passing cars in a vain effort to get them to slow down.

I got some signs out of the boot and set them up to give myself some protection and started dealing with the RTA – as we called it before someone in an office somewhere decided that  ‘accidents’ didn’t happen, it was always someone’s fault so let’s call them collisions instead.

I took details, arranged a garage & retired to my patrol car to fill in the accident – sorry – collision report.

While I waited for the garage someone who clearly didn’t realise that the roads are sometimes icy in the winter, & apparently had no concept of what a ‘Police Slow’ sign actually means, came up the road, didn’t see the police car with blue lights or the recovery truck with amber lights, applied a liberal handful of brake & duly slid across the road, head on, into a car coming the other way.

The sound of these things is often worse than the results. Metal compressing, bending & breaking has its own unique sound.
I ran over to the new RTA whilst simultaneously summoning some assistance on the radio.

Fortunately, it didn’t seem very serious. The guy who had caused it was just about uninjured. As is so often the case, the innocent party came off worse; the law of just desserts doesn’t seem to work very well on the highways & byways of the UK.

I can’t remember his name so I’ll just call him John.

John hadn’t been wearing his seatbelt. His chest had taken the full force of the steering wheel & his face had followed on. He had a nasty cut along the bottom of his chin.

I’d grabbed the first aid kit & managed to apply a dressing while assuring him that he was fine, an ambo was on route & he needed to stay in his car until the paramedics arrived.

I sat next to him in the car a detailed his name, address & contact details for his wife. I said that once the paramedics had taken him to hospital, I’d make sure his wife was told what had happened.

Apart from his cut chin & some pains from the steering wheel, he didn’t look too bad.
The ambo & a couple of traffic cars arrived & while the paramedics sorted John out, I relayed the circumstances to my colleagues.

It was then that a paramedic shouted over to us. I went up to them, John was now on a board in a neck brace. He looked much worse; his face was grey & he was no longer speaking. It was clear the ambo crew were starting to get worried about John’s condition.

I jumped in the back of the ambo for the 5 mile journey. This is usually a bad sign, it means there is a chance that someone might die & the officer is there to provide continuity from the scene to the hospital.
John did get worse, it wasn’t clear why. By the time we got to the hospital he had drips in him, was unconscious & hardly breathing.

He was rushed into the A & E department, put on a bed & a team of medical staff worked round him like a formula one pit crew; everyone with a purpose. Clothes were cut off. I heard terms shouted out which I recognised from the comfort of the sofa on a Saturday night when we watched Casualty, but wasn’t really sure what they meant.

John was now hooked up to some technology & someone injected something into his inner thigh, I don’t know why.

Twenty minutes ago I was assuring him he’d be fine & saying how I’d get his Mrs to pop up the hospital to collect him, & here he was, in a different world, dying.

John died a few minutes later, though the record would show the official time of death as sometime after that when the medical team eventually gave up.

I can’t remember how old he was but I would guess at early 30s.

I had seen hundreds of dead people but John was the first person I actually saw die.

It was a strange experience of mixed feelings. I was in awe of a team working as a group of professionals dedicated but ultimately failing to bring him through it. I found it difficult to accept that he could be speaking to me normally one minute & dying the next. There was frustration that a  man had died for want of doing up a simple little clasp on a seatbelt, & anger that, once again, the innocent party was the victim paying the ultimate price for someone else’s stupidity.

If it had been the movies, I’d have left the hospital, driven round to John’s house & broken the news to John’s wife. Someone else did that.

A post mortem followed a couple of days later. It turned out that when he hit the steering wheel a rib had broken & sliced through his liver. He didn’t stand a chance.

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  1. Jabadaw says:


    I know how you feel I’ve had a couple of people die on me. One incident that I’ll never forget is when we came across a car that had crashed at slow speed into the barrier on the on ramp onto an urban motorway. The driver had collapsed at the wheel of the car and had cried out to his family that the spirits had come for him. (He was an African) We called for an ambulance checked his pulse which was very faint and realised that it had stopped as had his breathing. My colleague and I performed CPR on this chap for at least 20 minutes waiting for an ambulance. Thing is I knew that he had indeed gone and we were now doing CPR and blowing air into a dead body. If it hadn’t been for the family being there I’d probably have stopped long before the ambulance turned up.

    For several days afterwards I wondered if there was something that I had done wrong with the first aid. I was kind of happy to learn that the chap had had an embolism in his brain and there had not been anything that we could have done for him.

    I still wonder what the family thought of when they saw our efforts to save him.

    July 18th, 2009 at 11:26

  2. Tom Gane says:

    I sympathise with these type of experiences. As part of an ambulance call, you psychologically brace yourself for the ‘worse case scenario’ but still find yourself shocked at how quickly a patient can crash.

    Children could decline dramatically, and had to be watched like a hawk. But seemingly healthy patients could decline quickly, and even with a fully equiped ambulance, there was little if anything that could be done.


    July 18th, 2009 at 14:16

  3. copper bottom says:

    I went to an RTA- on my own in the rain – that turned out to be a man that had a heart-attack…

    25-gruelling tiring energy sapping CPR later he was still dead…

    the passing GP that stopped to help me was in tears – bless him… you never know how it gets you…

    July 18th, 2009 at 18:31

  4. Tony F says:

    Oh Bugger.

    July 19th, 2009 at 00:19

  5. MarkUK says:

    Jabadaw – even when there isn’t something as grievous as a cerebral embolism it can be hard to get someone back once their heart has stopped.

    You really need a defibrillator no more than 4 minutes away – though efficient CPR can prolong the time by quite a lot, especially if started straight away. This is why I reckon that everyone over the age of 12-14 should have to learn CPR and pracice it at least once per year.

    Even then, it may do no good. I’ve had a fair few that haven’t been successfully resuscitated and I know my CPR is pretty good – I often have to do it with a paramedic looking on, who would not hesitate to tell me if I was doing it less than damn well.

    Sometimes your time is up.

    July 19th, 2009 at 19:12

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