When I was still in my probationary period at work, I did an attachment with the Traffic Unit.
I dealt with drink drivers, people on their mobile phones, crashes, but never a fatal. In fact, the biggest trauma I had to deal with on that attachment was less than a broken bone. I was lucky. These guys & girls deal with trauma on a nearly daily basis.
But it did mean that when I was by myself, my first fatal would be just that, my first. Nobody to hold my hand so to speak, and guide me through. Very much in at the deep end.
It was a Sunday. I really do remember it like it was yesterday. The fact that so many months on, there are still flowers at the scene I think speaks volumes. It was his birthday recently. I didn’t know that, not until I saw the “32” balloons hung at the scene.
On this Sunday, my best friend was working. She is a Special Constable and we have never been crewed together. We’ve worked the same shift over the years, but never been crewmates. She text me and told me that she was coming in on the Sunday and I couldn’t wait! Loads to catch up on to make a late shift fly by.
I joked with her when she came in. It was a Sunday, the chances are bugger all would happen and it would be a slow shift! Well how wrong was I?!
Off we went on a tootle around the town, chatting rubbish and catching up. I heard my colleague on the radio call up to say that Traffic were on their way to an accident, but were some distance away. When I heard the road name I called up and said we would go, as we were literally turning into the road.
So what did we know when we were on our way? We knew there was an accident. That was it. Not how many vehicles, what level of injury, na-da.
When we arrived, I’ll be honest, I wasn’t entirely sure where the scene was. There were people and vehicles bloody everywhere. There was a bus with its hazard lights on, so we presumed it was involved, and parked up behind it. I jumped out and got my high-vis, when somebody ran towards me and said a child had been knocked off their bike.
To this day I don’t know what they were chatting about, because there was no child or bike involved. There was however, a man, lying face down in the middle of the road. There was also a car, with the biggest bloody dent in the bonnet and virtually no windscreen. The driver was stood there.
I called up and asked for Ambulance. They were already on route, 30 minutes away. Brilliant.
I called up for an ETA for traffic. They were already on route, 20 minutes away. Brilliant.
It’s a bit of a blur, but it was at about this point where I looked at my crewmate, my best friend, and without saying much we realised that the casualty needed some serious help, now. He was barely breathing.
I felt so out of my depth. How quite I was “in charge” of this incident was beyond me. Ambulance had rung my mobile and were requesting updates as to the man’s condition and what we were doing. Air Ambulance were also on their way.
Our colleagues had turned up and started putting cordons in place. Bollocks to any spinal injury, we rolled the man over, ripped what was left of his top open, and started CPR.
My bestie was ace. She’d never done CPR before but you wouldn’t know. She took it all in her stride and just kept going. It’s bloody knackering but she just carried on. She alternated with my colleagues, I was still on the phone to Ambulance and trying to find a de-fib. Nobody knew where the nearest was. Traffic still weren’t here. Nor were Ambulance.
I knew this man was going to die. In fact, I knew he was already dead, but we can’t pronounce death, so we carried on working on him.
Never in my life had I been so happy to see a traffic officer. He flew up to us, literally launched me the de-fib, and ran back to his car to get the rest of his first aid kit. They carry more than the Response cars, and quite frankly a bandage wasn’t going to cut it today.
By the time he came back, damn near the entire Traffic Team had descended, plus a couple of Ambulances, and I could see the Air Ambulance. Funny how everyone arrives at once! We had the de-fib up and running.
Ambulance took over at this point, thankfully. I began grabbing witness details. Names, addresses, what they saw, the usual.
A while later, talking to one of the witnesses, it hit me. All the machines that had been frantically beeping away, weren’t. All of the Paramedics and Doctors that were passing orders and talking to each other, weren’t. Despite the sheer number of people around, to me it was silent. That’s when I realised, he really was dead. How I didn’t just fall apart I couldn’t tell you. I carried on speaking to those that needed speaking to, just “doing my job”.
Eventually, we got relieved by other officers. They took over the scene whilst the Investigators did their thing, so that we could go back to the station.
We didn’t say much at all on the way back. I think I was concentrating on breathing & driving rather than crying to be honest.
I don’t really know what happened after that. I know we had a shit-tonne of paperwork to do, a debrief was had with our supervisors, and some food was eaten. I don’t remember much more than that.
That was pretty much our shift done. We spent hours down at the scene. Time flew. Just before I left, a colleague gave me a cuddle (dangerous!) and asked if I was okay. “Yeah I’m fine” I said. Not entirely true, but I didn’t know how I felt, not yet anyway.
I took my kit off, jumped in my car, and cried most of the way home. It’s funny isn’t it, how there is such a divide, somehow, between work and home. As soon as I took my kit off, I was in home mode, and my emotions got the better of me. But I needed to cry. We aren’t superhuman, we are just people. I think I was in shock.
I can never thank my crewmate, my best friend, enough for that day. I literally couldn’t have done it alone. Those that are with you through the best and worst times really are invaluable. You can’t always be strong, but you can always be brave.
You can only do your best, but what if your best isn’t enough?