Monday, 30th January 2017 was a Public Holiday in New Zealand.
We had finished painting the inside of the window frames at the front of the house. The paint had dried and we were re-hanging the curtains. As Amanda reached up to fix a hook onto the track she winced.
“Ow, I’ve just pulled a muscle in my neck.” it was painful enough to force her to take a painkiller and sit down.
For the next 48 hours the pain persisted.
Two days later I was at the gym after work and decided to finish my routine early, go home and prepare dinner.
I was in the garden picking salad leaves when I heard the car come down the drive on the other side of the house. A few momemts later Amanda called out. Not her usual “I’m home.” This was more urgent – and she was calling my name. I walked into the kitchen to find her sat at the dining table looking frightened.
“I can’t feel my right side, I think I’m having a stroke.”
The headache had got progessively worse during the day and even stronger painkillers were having no effect. I called 111 and explained the symptoms, wondering for a moment if the operator actually believed me as many of the signs were apparently not yet there. She could speak coherently and there was no obvious face drooping. She also felt very thirsty.
I was surprised when the paramedics came through the kitchen door less than 4 minutes later. They got the call on their way back from another ‘shout’ and were already on the highway a short distance away. One began asking me for details, typing into an Ipad, while the other assessed the patient. She could move her limbs and answer simple questions albeit slowly. But he sensed something was not right. He asked her to stand and walk towards him. As she did so, she lunged for the sink, violently vomited and slumped into his arms, before vomiting again. The paramedic gently lowered her to the floor as she snorted and gasped for breath. Both of them worked as I paced the kitchen floor, the realisation of what was happening, as this sudden, instant, catastropic collapse swept over me I casually switched off the oven, took out the dinner and threw it away.
They called for back up and an intensive care paramedic who happened to live in the next village, arrived within 5 minutes.
He quickly confirmed the brain bleed and decided she should be flown to Wellington for immediate treatment at their specialist neurological unit. For the next 30 minutes, three paramedics worked on our kitchen floor, stabilising her, inserting a breathing tube and administering powerful drugs to induce a deep coma to rest her damaged brain.
The IC Paramedic decided the patient needed to be airlifted straight to Wellington hospital, a 30 minute flight away, across the Cook Strait, at the bottom of the North Island. As the ambulance made its way to Nelson Airport, a 20 minute drive away, it pulled over to collect a fourth paramedic.
On arrival at the airpoint the pilot said due to weather conditions the rescue chopper was unable to land on the roof of the hospital and so the only option was the fixed – wing air ambulance. This had just been refuelled and with the weight of the pilot, co pilot, 2 paramedics, the patient on a heavy stretcher and full tank of fuel, there was no room for me.
By now it was 8.30pm. The last commercial flight had left, and I watched, still in my gym gear, as on a perfect warm summer evening, the small plane took off and headed into the still-bright, summer – blue sky…and into darkness