Off-duty ambo in life-saving drama

Last updated 05:00 27/01/2014
Shane Palmer
Daniel Tobin/Fairfax NZ
HERO: Shane Palmer has been an ambulance officer for 14 years.

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Shane Palmer was asleep in bed when his wife woke him saying he should get across the road.

He did not know it then, but he was about to save a man's life.

His wife had heard the constant revving of a motor and then looked outside to see two men trying to break into the back window of a car on Saturday afternoon in the Christchurch suburb of Fendalton.

There was the smell of burning rubber. Smoke had been pouring out of the vehicle - alerting a neighbour, who was working in his garden, to call the emergency services.

As soon as Palmer saw the man behind the wheel he knew he was in trouble. The man was unconscious and breathing strangely. Palmer put his two fingers to his neck. No pulse. The driver was in cardiac arrest - a condition that about only 4 per cent of people survive outside of hospital.

In his 14 years as an ambulance officer, most recently with St John, Palmer had seen a lot. He had worked in Cambodia and Vietnam as a medic and received a medal from the mayor for his work during the Christchurch earthquake. Palmer had spent hours helping people from central city buildings. He had worked tirelessly at the CTV site.

But this was right across from his home in Straven Rd. Palmer thought it seemed like fate that he was there.

He told two men, who had pulled over when they saw the car, to help get the man on to the ground. The men had spent some time trying to get into the vehicle. In the end they smashed in the back window with a fire extinguisher.

Palmer laid down a jacket and the man was laid on it. He wanted the car to shelter the man from the prying eyes of neighbours.

Five or 10 minutes - Palmer could not remember quite how long he gave the man CPR. For every minute a patient stays in cardiac arrest, their chances of survival drop by about 10 per cent.

Palmer said he was just doing his job. He was calm. His St John's training kicked in.

Then Palmer heard them. Even for an off-duty ambulance officer, he said, the sound of sirens is like the sound of the calvary arriving.

Paramedics came with a defibrillator. At first his colleagues did not recognise Palmer without his uniform. But he stayed - squeezing air into the man's lungs with a bag. The team defibrillated him twice - sending electric charges through his body. Then they felt "spontaneous pressure". There was a pulse.

Palmer spoke to him.

"You are going to be all right," he said. "You are going to go to hospital and that is the best place for you." The man moved his eyes and mumbled.

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He arrived at Christchurch Hospital in a serious condition.

"It's great to know he is all right," Palmer said yesterday. "I would have always wondered."

The man, aged in his 40s, was alive but still in hospital.

- The Press


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