Before I begin telling you about today’s events, I’ll need to explain a couple of abbreviations to the non-medically minded amongst you.
SVT – supraventricular tachycardia (bloody fast heart best)
MI – myocardial infarction (heart attack)
ECA – Emergency Care Assistant (my glamorous assistant)
ECG – electrocardiograph (squiggly lines that tell us what your heart is doing)
AED – automatic external defibrillator (shock box)
Ok, so, today was a day like every other, it started of with the usual vehicle check and coffee before admitting to the control room that we were indeed ready to rock.
Our first job was a lady complaining of central chest pain (it always gets a high priority in case it’s an MI) so off we go forcing our way through the morning commuters.
On arrival at the patients address we were met by a pale, sweaty, generally poorly looking lady, my ECA started unpacking the equipment and running tests while I gathered the history, she stood on the sats probe (the device we use to measure pulse and blood oxygen levels) and broke it, no matter, we can still get a pulse manually and a heart rate off the ECG.
“Fuck, that’s fast” I thought to myself, and confirmed on the monitor that she was in SVT, her pulse was about 160.
I rang the hospital and told the doctor what I’d found, we blue lit the patient in, the nurse performed an ECG on their equipment but it was normal… ok so it might have rectified on the way in, stranger things happen at sea.
Patient number 2, a 17-year-old with a chest infection and chest pain, probably from coughing but we’ll do an ECG just to be sure. Shit. SVT. Heart rate of 170. Pre-alert the hospital and again on arrival, normal ECG… “this is weird” I said to my crew mate, but no matter, the radio bleeps and we’re off again.
Patient number 3, a middle aged man who’s had a faint, it’s possibly cardiac so we need to do an ECG… what?! SVT again?!? Something weird is going on here.
We took him into hospital with an abnormal ECG, his pulse rate felt around 80 but the ECG said 165, we didn’t pre-alert this time, something odd was going on.
We booked the patient in and returned to the ambulance. I told my ECA to wire me up, I wanted to check the machine on myself. SVT.
Now I know something’s definitely wrong. I rang the supervisor who, naturally, couldn’t possibly take my word for it so had to come down for a look.
Checked the machine and identified the fault.
It was a training unit.
Set to display SVT.
The ambulance had been used for a demonstration the week before but hadn’t been re-kitted. The training units used by my service are fully functional units, but are reprogrammed to display a set or changeable heart rhythm, it’s impossible to tell unless you take the batteries out and look for the red dot next to the serial number.*
It would still function as an AED but would always display SVT on the ECG.
I felt like an utter knob. Now I have to go back into the hospital with my tail between my legs and tell the lead consultant that the ECGs were… unreliable… and why.
*all training units have now been fitted with a bright orange handle and a sticker with the words “for training use only” at the top of the screen.
Before you go...
We need your help. As former emergency services & armed forces personnel, we pride ourselves on bringing you important, fast-moving and breaking news stories & videos which are free from the negative bias which is often directed at the emergency services & NHS by some sections of the mainstream media.
One of the reasons we started 'Emergency Services News' back in 2018 was because we became tired of reading badly informed stories about the emergency services & NHS which seemed only ever to highlight negative aspects of the job.
We want to be the unheard voice of the remarkable men and women who serve in the emergency services, NHS and armed forces. And with around 500k page views each month, we are getting there!
As income from ads, the mainstay source of income for most publishers, continues to decline; we need the help of you, our readers.
You can support emergency services news from as little as £1. It only takes a minute. Every contribution, however big or small, is vital for our future.
Please help us to continue to highlight the life-saving work of the emergency services, NHS and armed forces by becoming a supporter.