Fight or flight… going to A&E

Picking up from my post on CPR (CPR – do you know how?), where I described the distress of Abi’s collapse, I thought I’d try to describe the panic I experienced during Abi’s transition to A&E, and how that changed to a numb acceptance that helped me deal with the hours of waiting that followed. While this is incredibly hard to recount, it is also interesting for me to examine how I felt at various stages.

People react in different ways to extremely stressful situations. I now know that I’m a panicker! My husband, while very distressed, was able to retain his composure, for me and for Abi. He knew he needed to take in as much as possible in order to help.

From that moment in our bedroom, I hovered outside on the landing as there wasn’t room for the paramedics and a hysterical woman. I’ve never experienced hysteria before, it’s not my way. I tend to keep my emotions to myself, sometimes bottled, certainly in private and on my terms. But when Abi collapsed, I fell apart in a way I never knew I could. I completely gave over to the emotion of utter despair.

The paramedics smiled at me reassuringly while they stabilised Abi and then got her onto a stretcher. It must be a very difficult job being a paramedic, to try to help the injured person and deal with the emotional relatives’ questions. They were amazingly calm and ignored my hysteria, they didn’t know what was wrong with Abi, they just had to do what they could to get her to A&E okay.

Having seen her blue and unconscious, I was convinced she would die before she got there. I was sobbing in the street (my father-in-law was sat with my other children in their bedroom). It was around 9pm and the road was dark and quiet, my sobs seemed to echo around the houses. There was only room for one of us in the ambulance, so my husband went, seeing as he was more composed than me. I called my sister and recall shouting down the phone for her to take me to the hospital that minute. She could hardly make sense of what I said but told me she’d be there. I was very jittery, muttering to myself, shaking all over. The ambulance left and I was stood in the road outside my house, crying. I stumbled after it, hoping that my sister would drive down the road at any minute. I couldn’t just stand there and wait. I was desperate. The way I felt, I would have walked the whole way.

My panic had me sobbing and doubled over with the shock and grief. As I rounded the corner, I fell into the arms of a neighbour who ran out of her house to see what was up. I recall collapsing into her arms, shouting that Abi was dying, was blue. She just held me. I’m forever thankful for that. Too many people coming out to see me would have been overwhelming, but this neighbour comforted me until my sister arrived, which was only a few minutes after.

Then I spent the next 15 or so minutes screaming at my sister while she drove with such composure all the way to Gloucester. I’m not sure how she did it. We got there and parked, but realised we were the other side of the hospital grounds. We ended up running aimlessly around the deserted hospital car park trying to find the A&E, to me it felt as though the entire world had just doubled in size and that I’d shrunk to the size of a mouse.

We finally found A&E and were shown into a side room. The doctors were already with my husband, asking him questions about exactly what happened, a policeman was there also. They then asked me the same questions, trying to work out what may have caused her collapse. They left to see to Abi. We were all agitated, pacing in this tiny room, waiting for the doctors to tell us what was happening. We’d sit down, stand up, sip water, pace, then start all over again.

The panic subsided though as I paced. I was left with a numb feeling. They say that panic attacks can only last 20 minutes and that heart-racing, breathless feeling passes. I expect this was the same. I’ve had mild panic attacks before when much younger, but nothing on this scale. I expect the distress makes it that much worse.

We told different doctors and the policeman all that we knew, several times. Then they took Abi off for a CT scan. After, a doctor came in and sat down. He looked very solemn. He didn’t give false hope or over sympathise. He told us she’d had a massive bleed on the brain, about a pint of blood, and he wasn’t sure if the neuro surgeons at Frenchay could operate, as the damage looked to be too great.

I thought she would die that night.

I clearly recall the cry my sister let out; she’d been relatively composed to that point, staying calm and strong for us. We pleaded with the doctor to call the surgeons at Frenchay. We couldn’t believe that they wouldn’t even try to save her, so we were relieved when they came back in moments later to say they were taking her to Bristol – a 40-minute journey on the ‘blue light’.

We were able to see Abi for about 10 minutes while they waited for the paramedic crew to get together – moving her had to be done very carefully. That was the first time we saw her with tubes and wires everywhere, helping her to breathe, her heart to work and to keep her free from pain. Oh how we kissed her, stroked her arms, held her hands, any bits of skin we could see, but we couldn’t disturb her too much as she was so wired up. I recall seeing a tattoo on her forearm that she’d drawn on herself in blue biro that morning in class – ‘I love ?’ She’d not long been daydreaming about young love, kids’ stuff, and now she was on a hospital trolley on life support.

While she was being put in the ambulance, we waited in the waiting room and a nurse who’d been treating her came in and gave us all a heartfelt hug, she had tears in her eyes. She could tell that this was one special girl who was critically ill and looked as though she wished she could just make it all better. It was clearly not a common occurrence for them. That same nurse wrote to us a couple of weeks after Abi’s death to tell us what an impression she left with them, even in that brief time, and how sorry the whole team was for our loss. (This is another reason why fundraising for a hospital is so important to us – the staff deserve the support too, as what they have to deal with on a daily basis would break even the strongest of us!)

Abi was then put into the ambulance and the policeman who had waited in the wings drove us to the hospital, following the ambulance all the way. That was the longest, quietest car journey I’ve ever had. My husband and I sat in the back, our hands held tight, looking out of our windows at the clear night sky, trying to imagine what was yet to come. Numb, tired, very, very scared, but with the faintest glimmer of hope.

3 thoughts on “Fight or flight… going to A&E

  1. I can’t think of the right words to say. Only that the details of this night is etched so deeply on my mind. That Wednesday night was the worst of our lives and has been relived time and time again. Xx

  2. I have no words for how shocking this night must have been for you all. I’m not good with words, like you are, but wanted to say, after experiencing the fear of following that ‘blue light’ to Bristol, I know it is something no parent ever wants to have to go through. Love always x

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