Cardiac Arrest

  1. Reek Sunday, 2016.

3 A.M.

My alarm woke me, and I completed my usual routine of getting ready for the day ahead. Except today I was part of the first aid cover for the 25,000 pilgrims hiking Croagh Patrick. My lift arrived and we set off for Mayo. We stopped for food at a deli, that wasn’t serving hot food, so we settled for cold sandwiches. We arrived on site, after a painfully long car journey. Having signed in and received our radios we barely had time to catch our breath before we headed out almost immediately. Ten minutes along the track we reach the “Papa 1” the first of two first aid posts.

Then someone died.

Earlier in the day I had complained about tiny things like getting up too early or having to have cold food. They were big things at that time. But where you hear “Cardiac Arrest…requesting Doctor,” everything becomes irrelevant. The sinking feeling in my chest was like nothing I’ve ever felt before. It wasn’t a pain resembling the death of a loved one, but rather realisation of what I have signed up for.

At “Papa 1” we hear over the radio the on-goings of the Arrest at the Medical Centre. The Helicopter was flown in by the Sligo Coast Guard and they transported the patient.

Then the day continued as normal.

That’s when I realised that the world didn’t stop. The medical volunteers didn’t grieve; they weren’t even affected by it. On the inside I was still processing it. I’ve trained countless times on how to deal with it. Maybe if it happened in front of me, the adrenaline would kick in and it wouldn’t get to me. I didn’t have adrenaline. I had a digital radio.

I was somewhat taken aback that it was nothing to all these medical volunteers all around me. And it hit me like a tonne of bricks that I was going to end up like that. I need to be like that. People die. If I’m going to continue in the medical field I’m going to have to get used to that. I need to detach, separate what happens on duty from my personal life and thoughts.

I didn’t write this to be read. I wrote this for myself, to cement in my own mind that this happens. They’re not just stories to tell at training; they’re real events. Events that I need to become accustomed to. Events that I need to leave behind once I take off my uniform.


Because if I don’t, I won’t be wearing it for much longer.


Luke Coulton Dillon

One thought on “Cardiac Arrest

  1. Neil Goodwin says:

    Hi Luke

    I’m not a professionally trained medic. I have done my REC3 a number of years ago (now out of date) and more recently a PHEEC First Aid Responder course with Irish Red Course. I should be volunteering, like you did, at events like this so I can actually put mt training into practice. Well done and good luck with future events.

    I understand when you say that things didn’t stop after the incident you are writing about. Things can’t stop when there are another 25,000 participants still out on the mountain. But I do know that everyone involved was deeply affected by the incident. Maybe the most important part of the training is the part that allows you to continue working when something like this happens. There is huge personal strength required and it is absolutely essential to be able to share your thoughts and debrief with someone, either within your organisation or independently, in order to be able to get up at 3am the following weekend and do it all again.


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