Saturday, October 9

The golden lunch hour

Lunch was interrupted without warning today by the arrival of London’s air ambulance helicopter outside my office. My company occupies the top floor of the building. This meant that as the ambulance descended past our windows the commercial hum of our office was suddenly drowned out by the pulsating thunder of it powerful rotors. At first we thought its arrival was publicity stunt. However our excitement sooner turned to horror as the realization of its true mission unfolded.

Less than 200 metres away, on Hammersmith High Street, a car had struck a cyclist. The driver, clearly in shock, then swerved on to the pavement and hit several pedestrians before crashing into the front windows of a discount supermarket. News stories later reported that nobody had suffered a life-threatening injury. However, those us in the office endured an anxious wait for everyone to return from lunch. It was more than hour before we knew our entire team was safe.

The entire experience, coming so soon on the heels of Garry’s hospital admission, reminded me again how fragile life can be. It was heart-wrenching to think that someone in Hammersmith had gone into town today and, without warning, found their health and well-being shattered within seconds. As some at work later said, ”Take a moment to hug your kids every morning. You never know what may happen next.”

I must confess that the air ambulance is an impressive machine. It’s painted a brilliant vermillion colour (the hue of its corporate sponsor; the Virgin Group). It’s based at Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel, about 13 kilometres east of Hammersmith. Incredibly it takes the helicopter less than 12 minutes from take-off to landing at most destinations. This means that a trauma doctor can reach a seriously injured person within the first Golden Hour, dramatically increasing their chance of survival.

Operating the ambulance is an impressive affair. It costs at least £5000 a day to operate. The Civil Aviation Authority grants the crew special permission to land anywhere they consider it safe at any time. With almost ten million people living within its reach, the helicopter is very busy. In 2009 it completed 1741 missions, an average of almost five calls a day.

UPDATE: October 27
The air ambulance helicopter reappeared outside the office today. The local paper later reported that a man had fallen from a roof-top balcony barely 100 metres from our office. It's hard to believe we've seen it twice in less than a fortnight.

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