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Live and learn blog

Lost in the supermarket

After a particularly unpleasant and gruelling day on call, I found myself traipsing up and down the aisles of my local supermarket, idly hoping for some inspiration to jump into my basket. Chicken? Chorizo? Eggs? Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a man holding a trolley with very straight arms and an unusually wide stance.

That’s strange, I thought. Maybe he has learning disabilities and is on a ‘day out’ to the supermarket with his carer, the woman next to him.

It was then I noticed the hint of a small white tube in her left hand: hypostop. This man with learning difficulties actually had type-one diabetes and hypoglycaemia.

The man’s wife quickly explained that she had already given him orange juice and three hypostops, and didn’t have anything else to give him. He was unresponsive and his arms and legs were rigid. I felt a small knot of anxiety growing in my stomach; he was going to fit.

His arms and legs started shaking as I tried to get him to the floor. I quickly stuffed my coat under his head and desperately tried to hold his airway open while asking a stranger to dial 999. His three children began to cry.

Very rapidly, the man’s lips dulled to a dusky blue, and I started making a mental plan as to what I would do if he arrested.

A shop employee, a young man who couldn’t have been older than 20, asked me if there was anything he could do. Every single cell in my body wanted to scream for oxygen, suction, drugs and a cannula, and yet there was nothing.

The ambulance was five or six minutes away; the man on the floor could die in that time.

I wracked my brains desperately and asked the shop worker to run for some honey. I rubbed a handful of honey into the patient’s gums and kept rubbing.

Miraculously, the fit stopped and he started to breathe again. I have never been so relieved in my life.

Over the next minute or so, his colour came back and he started to ask where he was. Only then did the paramedics arrive with their bag full of all the things I had so gravely needed to make this man better.

As an anaesthetic trainee in hospital, this case wouldn’t have phased me, but there, sitting on the floor among the focaccia and the croissants, I felt more scared than I had done in a very long time. It was extremely humbling.

Hospital doctors forget just how vulnerable we are without all of our drugs and equipment, and I had never really been in such precarious circumstances before.

So, perhaps the next time you are on the phone to a GP and sigh because they don’t know the sats, you will think of me and my jar of honey and be very, very grateful you are in a hospital with all of the drugs and kit that enables us to do what we do best.

Emma Casely is a core trainee 2 in anaesthetics in London