Real life isn’t like TV. Wedding days tend to go off without a dramatic interruption. People’s lovers rarely turn out to be their long lost brothers. Idyllic English villages don’t usually experience people getting murdered off one by one.
And when you call an ambulance, it doesn’t turn up at the door ten seconds later, paramedics bursting into the house ready to perform miracles. In reality, it can take a long, long time.
I learned this the hard way. Firstly, by experiencing a secondary PPH and waiting what felt like forever for help to arrive. (I also learned that being taken to hospital in the middle of the night by ambulance is nothing like E.R. but that is something I will probably NEVER feel able to write about properly!)
I learned my lesson about ambulances a second time when waiting for help to arrive when a friend had a diabetic ‘hypo’ at our house. After the battery in his blood-testing kit failed, his blood sugars had fallen to dangerous levels during the night, and he was deathly white and refusing all assistance (as is normal for diabetics in this state) while he gradually lost consciousness. I stood outside with his wife, waiting for the ambulance in our night clothes for 45 minutes while they phoned back to ask for directions a second time, and my husband upstairs revived our friend himself by shoving jam past his clenched teeth.
Then there was the time when it wasn’t even worth calling the ambulance, because they wouldn’t have made it.
We were celebrating my husband and his friends’ 40th birthdays with a joint birthday weekend away. A beautiful and remote converted barn in Derbyshire was the setting, and we’d spent a happy few days chilling out, going for walks, visiting the animals with the children and partaking of some good quality eating and drinking.
On the Saturday night, we were in party mood with banners and balloons up. Meat was braaied outside by the men and women prepared salads and the enormous dining table. We sat down to eat, drink and chat, and at first the party barely noticed when S, my husband, stood up, choking.
I banged him on the back a couple of times, but there was something instantly very frightening about the way he was coughing. After just a few seconds, he suddenly collapsed. I watched my big, strong husband drop like a stone, his head making sickening contact with the solid barn wall on his way to the ground.
I just remember saying ‘Can someone call an ambulance please?’ at least twice, my voice sounding like it came from somewhere else, far away. Ironically, I had a phone in my hand but it was my husband’s and I didn’t know how to work it. Just before the incident, someone had mentioned Matthew McConaughey and, being the sleb pleb I am, I didn’t know who he was so my husband had googled him for me on his Smartphone. Twice while my husband lay on the floor I looked helplessly at the phone, with this topless picture of Matthew McConaughey on it (a fact that my husband loves to tease me about). People vaguely looked around for phones, but I think we all knew that it would take a long time for an ambulance to get to our remote barn.
Thanks to the quick thinking and brutal thumping of hubby’s best mate (and I will love him forever for what he did), a piece of sausage dislodged, and my husband instantly came to. Then I fell apart.
I’m quite embarrassed remembering it now, bearing in mind that these are people that we know well and spend lots of time with, but as soon as my husband came to, I couldn’t stop myself from sobbing my eyes out. I was pregnant with Mouse at the time (so the hormones probably didn’t help) and a lovely friend guided me onto a chair, placed my hands on my tummy and told me to take deep breaths, calm down and think of the baby.
Meanwhile my poor husband had absolutely no idea what had just happened, assumed he had had too much to drink and kept apologising to me for passing out!
The rest of the night was spent clinging to my hubby, party atmosphere firmly squashed. The shadow of something terrifying had touched us and I couldn’t even bare the single beds we’d been in the night before, choosing instead to crawl into one tiny bed next to my big husband.
“It’s nice to know you care! “ he joked sleepily.
All that night and for days, maybe even weeks afterwards, I lived under the edge of a cold shadow of fear. A ‘what if’ that gripped me. I cried when I saw our little boy sleeping in his cot, my mind going to the worst horror of what could have been.
It spilled over beyond the holiday too. I couldn’t stop thinking about what would have happened if we’d been on our own. I would have had no idea how to help my husband in that situation. I felt helpless.
Back home, we got back to normal after a few sympathetic shudders from female friends and smutty jokes from male friends ('choked on a big sausage did ya?' wink wink). Every time my husband coughed or cleared his throat at meal time, I’d instantly be on red alert. Made for a few tense dinners during the winter, I’ll tell you. The truth is, my husband has celebrated his 42nd birthday now, and I am still not totally over it.
I’m not constantly gripped by fear. I can make weak jokes about the time I looked at topless pictures of Matthew McConaughey instead of calling an ambulance for my husband. Just occasionally, there’s that little moment when I remember.
So, I’ve decided that two years is long enough to be dwelling on something, and it’s time to be proactive. In this case, there is something that I can do – I can get myself some first aid training. This will also help with my job, where I work with teenagers, one of whom hilariously pretended to have a seizure whilst in my care last year, and I was a bit flummoxed about what to do on that occasion too (apart from read him the riot act when I realised what was going on!) I’ve signed up for an evening of first aid with St John’s Ambulance in a few weeks time.
I hope that I’ll never, ever be in a situation where I have to know any of the things that I will learn that night, but hopefully just having the training will stop me worrying about just how long an ambulance can take.