I wish there was something more we could have done, but there simply wasn’t. Jane* died despite everything we did. It’s hard to imagine that a lovely spring afternoon at the football could suddenly turn to tragedy. But that’s what happened last September when my family, my cousin Wes, my girlfriend Miri and our four kids were heading back from the game, on our way to have a bit more fun.
I could hear a lady gasping, ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, just leave me alone.’ Our little group had been chatting away and I stopped and looked over to her. She took a few more steps then stopped again. I could see that she had her Ventolin puffer in her hand and she gasped again,
‘I just can’t breathe.’
I retired from nursing a while ago, but it all stays with you. I immediately saw that something wasn’t right, so I went over to her and gently asked, ‘Are you OK?’ Clearly, she wasn’t. She put her arms with her full weight on my shoulders and I thought ‘That’s not very good,’ and again she gasped, ‘I can’t breathe’. I automatically went into my ‘nurse’ mode and said ‘OK, let’s just relax, settle down. What’s your name? How old are you? Are you allergic to anything? Tell me what’s going on,’ and she said,
‘I’ve got asthma, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.
‘I’ve been sucking on this and it’s not doing anything’
I took her Ventolin off her and shook it and gave it a spray to make sure it wasn’t empty. But there was Ventolin in there and it just wasn’t working, so I knew she was trouble. Her family standing by were paralysed in fear. I turned to my cousin Wes and yelled, ‘Call an ambulance’. Wes has been a nurse for a lot longer than I was. He’s worked in acute facilities and run cardiac units. He went to one of the ground attendants and barked, ‘Please call an ambulance, we need one ASAP!’
I knew that if she was having an acute asthma attack, which to me looked like what was going on, there was nothing we could do without ventilation. If an airway is closing, we weren’t going to be able to do much. It took 25 minutes for the ambulance to arrive, but within 10 minutes Jane was on the ground. In just a few minutes, she’d gone from walking a couple of steps to being unable to finish full sentences, blue in the lips, and unable to hold her own body weight. We’d got her onto her side, but she wasn’t breathing. It all happened very, very quickly.
Wes and I started CPR and someone raced up to get the defibrillator from Crown. We got that on Jane and then the ambos arrived. They couldn’t get an airway in. So we worked on her desperately for another 19 minutes with the ambos. We just couldn’t get a pulse back at all. In spite of everything we did, she died.
They covered her up and took her away. Her husband and his friend had been looking on the entire time just paralysed by the shock of what was happening. We gave him a hug and said, ‘We’re so sorry, we’re so sorry. ’ It was tragic but there was nothing more we could do. We were all very upset when we left. I don’t think I slept at all that night, wondering if we could have done anything to change the outcome. My husband Darren was so supportive and reassuring.
But you know what, there was nothing else we could have done. We did everything we possibly could have.
I’ve often had conversations that you know asthma is around, but you don’t really think that people die from it.
What I’ve learned from that night is how important it is for people with asthma to have control of their symptoms. That taking regular preventative medication is just as important as your Ventolin inhaler, because it may not always be enough. Unfortunately, if that day comes and an acute attack happens, if you’re not actually sitting in a hospital waiting room, you can be in real trouble. It happened so quickly. You must be prepared and take action before it’s too late. I’m telling this story because I don’t want anyone else to lose a loved one like Jane. I don’t want anyone else to battle to try to save someone’s life only to see it lost as we did.