My son's call for help saved me
The second place entry in Pulse’s 2016 writing competition by Dr Helen Cotton
‘Mummy mummy mummy, are you alright?’
I groan and take a deep breath, stop swearing and try to move. My left hip grinds, moves in a strange manner and hurts. Really hurts, its agony. I take another deep breath.
‘No I don’t think so.’
Deep breath. Can I move? No.
‘Can you get my phone and call an ambulance darling?’
Thus started the 31 October 2014. My nine-year-old son had been woken by me stumbling around in the dark trying to located the source of an incessant beeping - the low battery on the smoke alarm. He had watched as struggling to reach, I placed a chair at the top of the stairs, climbed on, reached forward and somersaulted over the top and down the stairs.
This story is about the cry for help that my nine-year-old made
With a self-assurance and calmness I doubt I would have exhibited, he collected my phone and sat on the stairs. Competently he dialled 999 and asked for an ambulance, answered the frustrating questions and on command handed the phone over. I confirmed this wasn’t a hoax and that I was freezing cold and immobile at the foot of the stairs.
What happened next is of no real consequence to this story. The ambulance arrived, my nine-year-old let them in, got himself breakfast, packed me a bag, packed himself a bag and got in the ambulance.
Rather this story is about the cry for help that my nine-year-old made. I had taught him from a young age how to access an ambulance. I am a single mother with diabetes. He’d never needed to dial 999 before but he knew how to. Talking to him afterwards he recalls that it was a horrible day, that he was scared. He remembers Jas, his babysitter, meeting us in A&E. He remembers Dave, the trauma co-ordinator, explaining what was happening and letting him into resus to see me. He remembers Jas buying him breakfast in Morrisons. He is seemingly unfazed by the 999 call he made.
His school gave him a special award. Months later, chatting to one his friend’s mums, she hesitatingly asked if Archie really had called the ambulance. She told me how she and her husband had talked about my accident, about whether their children knew how to dial 999, whether they would have the confidence to do so. I talked to his teacher. Yes this was covered in PSHE but no he wasn’t sure how most nine-year-olds would have reacted.
Other writing competition entries
(Winner) Dr Renee Hoenderkamp: ‘I knew I was breaking every rule’
(3rd place) Dr Richard Cook: 'I tried to speak, but no words came'
(Runner-up) Dr Celine Inglis: Being a doctor puts you in a strange position for tragedy
(Under-35s winner) Dr Heather Ryan: Sometimes you need to break rules to be kind
I’ve thought about this since. My memories of that morning are different to Archie’s - my most vivid being relief that I was wearing PJs and that I wasn’t alone. My son was able to use the instructions he had been given and call 999. I am proud of him: he knew to expect to be asked what he needed, that he would be asked questions about my consciousness, that mentioning mum’s diabetes was important.
For times like these, every child should be taught how to call 999.
Dr Helen Cotton is a GP in Yeovil