BBC Ambulance paramedics explain ‘fine line between life and death’ during moving scenes – Manchester Evening News
Complex decisions medics face about how to best care for terminally ill patients have been detailed in moving scenes on BBC1’s Ambulance documentary.
One paramedic described regularly seeing “that fine line between life and death” as he worked to help an elderly terminally-ill woman.
Paramedic Ray was called to a care home to visit Josie, who was struggling to breath.
Because she was suffering from dementia, COPD and a tumour, Josie’s family had been told that she had just a few days to live.
The paramedics suspected she had a sepsis infection and would have usually transported the patient straight to hospital to start antibiotics.
But Josie’s daughter was faced with the difficult decision of whether to keep her mum in the home, where she was comfortable, or prolong her life by perhaps only a few more days by taking her to hospital.
“Her daughter is heartbroken. She wants what’s best for her mum,” one of the paramedics said.
“She doesn’t really want her to go to hospital if possible. Yesterday the GP has visited and has issued a statement of intent and it does say that this patent is expected to die within the next few days due to advanced dementia and lung cancer.”
In moving scenes, paramedic Ray can be seen caring for Josephine as she struggles to breath.
He tells the filmmakers: “It’s human instinct isn’t it? Survival. There’s always something in us where we think ‘I need to fight that little bit more’. I think sometimes we do need reminding that dying is a natural part of life. And in the line of work we do, we do see that fine line between life and death.”
He adds: “Sometimes being able to treat and preserve someone’s life isn’t always the right thing to do. And that’s the difficult part of this job because it goes against all my training. We’re taught to preserve life.”
After contacting Josie’s GP, the decision is made to keep her at the home in the care of the nursing staff.
Every hour of every day around 100 people call for an ambulance in Greater Manchester.
Last night’s episode showed how call handler Laura must make quick fire decisions about who most needs a specialist doctor from the helicopter emergency medical service (HEMS).
“I’m looking for the worst of the worst,” she says.
Amongst them are a man trapped between a van and a fence, a traumatic cardiac arrest and a man hit by a car.
“It’s quite painful to sit and wait,” says Laura.
“Life is very fragile and it could come to an end at any point for any number of reasons. It doesn’t take much.
“That little spark can be snuffed out in the blink of an eye by anything.”
One of the most serious incidents of the day falls to specialist doctor Oli, who is flown to a serious road traffic collision on the motorway.
Finding the driver unconscious, Oli us able to give a blood transfusion by the side of the road for the first time ever.
“Carrying blood is a new thing,” he explains. “It means we can do a blood transfusion at the roadside.”
He adds: “By giving patients blood we’re buying time.
“Then can get them to a surgeon who can fix that bleeding point and ultimately it can lead to that patient surviving when they wouldn’t have done otherwise.
“When you’re dealing with patients who have a really low chance of survival you’re holding onto a glimmer of hope I suppose.”
It’s the first time the HEMS team has used a blood transfusion, meaning the patient was given the same level of treatment they would have received in hospital – but a lot sooner.