Don’t Panic!

About a hundred years ago, I was sitting in A&E waiting for Mr D who had dropped something heavy on his foot. We had to wait an age, and while we were sitting there, three women came in. One was considerably younger than the other two, and seemed to be in distress. One of the two older women told the receptionist that the girl was having a panic attack.
I can remember initially feeling a great pang of empathy for this girl, now sitting in the waiting room near me, her white knuckles clamped to her chair. However, my feelings soon turned to frustration – what on earth did they think A&E could do?
This is why it is with a tinge of frustration and irritation I read on Twitter that EMT blogger Tom Reynolds got sent to someone having a panic attack – and this was their SECOND ambulance. Obviously I don’t know who called the ambo, although I’m inclined to think it wasn’t the panicker (unless it was a mild panic attack, and if so, I think he has bigger problems than a panic attack itself) but it bothers me. Of course, I don’t know the whole story, and indeed, shouldn’t. Patient confidentiality, and all that.
I have the greatest respect for people like Tom Reynolds, who deal with the unknown every day, often putting their lives on the line and dealing with every patient with courtesy and empathy. I know that a good chunk of their job is spent dealing with crap – the drunks, the “stubbed toes” and the vague sniffles. I read Random Reality and I too wonder what on earth society is coming to when people call ambulances out for such mundane things. As such, I think it’s only natural that Tom would roll his eyes and wonder what on earth he’s doing there when his patient is having a panic attack. I am, too.
One of my biggest fears when I was having panic attacks was that people would make a massive fuss when all I wanted to do was disappear. I think someone calling an ambulance would have freaked me out even more – the fear experienced during a panic attack magnifies the fear of everything else, including things like being sectioned, being out of control – even fear of dying.
I can imagine what was going through this patient’s mind. “I can’t breathe” “my chest hurts” “I’m going to faint” “I’m going to be sick” . If these are conveyed to someone nearby who doesn’t know what to do, I can see how instinctive it would be to dial 999. Plus, although ambulance control are incredibly skilled, I believe things like chest pain and difficulty breathing automatically elevate the category of the emergency. If it was the patient himself who called, then perhaps at least the wheels will have been set in motion for him to get further help. One can only hope.
So, what do you do if you’re with someone and they have a panic attack? I guess the easiest answer is talk to them. Hold their hand and tell them it’ll pass. Distract them by doing a simple breathing exercise with them, counting in and out. The adrenaline will subside, and things will calm down. There’s no need for an ambulance. As my CPN used to say – nobody ever died of a panic attack.
(I should add that when my CPN said that, I could have thumped him, along with “it’s only adrenaline” – true, but not very helpful.)

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