The missing leg
It doesn’t matter how much experience you have, you can still miss something. At the time referred to in this job, I had around 15 years experience working in emergency ambulances, and my colleague that night was also no new boy, having been in the job for about 10 years. So, with 25 years service between us, you think that we could get it all right, without schoolboy errors.
That night had been busy. Weekends usually were busier, especially in Central London. We found ourselves at the Accident and Emergency Department of St. Thomas’s Hospital, just south of Westminster Bridge, opposite the Houses of Parliament. This was not one of our usual haunts, but the level of work that night had pushed us across from West London, and we had finally ended up here. As soon as we became available, we received a call . It sounded serious, a motorcycle had hit a pedestrian, and there were three casualties.
The Police had also closed the road, which was Victoria Embankment, an arterial route around London beside the river. Luckily, it was very near, just across the bridge, so we arrived in a couple of minutes. There was a man lying motionless in the road, and a bit further along, a large BMW motorcycle was on its side, with two crash-helmeted figures lying nearby. The Police told us that the motorcyclists were father and son, and the son had been on the pillion; they were injured, but both conscious, so we should concentrate on the pedestrian. We called for more ambulances to attend, and went to examine the man in the road.
What we saw, was a well dressed man, wearing a dinner jacket and bow tie. He was tall, about 6 feet 4 inches, and had a large build. He also only had one leg. Removing part of his trouser leg with scissors, we could see that the leg had been ripped off with some force, probably from contacting a part of the fast moving motorcycle, and was missing from about four inches above the knee. The man was also unconscious, had poor vital signs, and there was an obvious head injury. Our main concern was the loss of blood from the traumatic amputation of the leg. There was a small river of the stuff running from underneath the man, leading down into the kerb; so, no time to mess around.
My colleague set up an infusion, and I applied a large dressing, incorporating a bag of ice, kindly supplied by the nearby Savoy Hotel. We got the victim into the ambulance, connected oxygen, drip bag, and monitor, then put in a radio call, to tell St. Thomas’s that we would be there very soon, with a serious case. I asked a policeman where the detached leg was. He hadn’t seen it, he replied. Frantic requests to his colleagues produced the same answer, nobody on scene had seen the missing leg, or had even thought to look for it. A cursory search was made in the immediate area, but we did not have time for niceties, so would have to go without the leg, losing any chance of it being re-connected later, if found. I asked the other ambulance crews, who had arrived to tend to the motorcyclists, to look out for it, as and when they got the chance, and we left at great speed, making the short journey back to the hospital.
On arrival, we were met by the trauma team, who wasted no time getting the poor man straight into the Resuscitation Room. I sheepishly told the staff that we had not brought the other leg, as we had not managed to find it. They were not too concerned, as he had deteriorated rapidly, and they would have to work fast to save his life. As they began to remove his clothes, one of the nurses had difficulty with the cummerbund, which was wrapped tightly around his waist. I proffered my large shears to help, and she cut through it with ease. As she did so, something fell out of his shirt, crashing heavily onto the floor. It was his other leg.
Amazingly, the impact had not only severed the leg, it had been forced back up the trouser leg, wrapping around his waist, giving the appearance of a pot belly. In all the excitement, and the adrenaline rush of a serious accident, none of us had noticed. You couldn’t make it up if you tried.
I don’t know what happened to the man, but he was not expected to live, and I very much doubt that he did. Fortunately, the matter of the missing leg was immaterial to the outcome.