On Sunday 4th July, I was taking my dogs for their evening walk when I happened across a male sitting upright on a bench with his head back at a right-angle. It struck me as odd at a first glance, but I quickly rationalised that he was taking a moment to himself, letting droplets of water splash his face as it started to rain.
I walked another 10 metres and glanced again; no movement. I decided to go over and investigate, and when I arrived, several other dog-walkers had also spotted him and had walked over, stopping around 5 metres away. I gently tapped the lad’s shoulder, but he felt heavy. His complexion was waxy and there were only very occasional breaths. I reached out again and took his pulse; it was strong. I gently shook him again, calling out to him, but there was no response. There was a strong smell of cannabis and as a drug and alcohol worker, I recognised there might be other substances at play, and he may have overdosed.
I quickly messaged my partner to come and grab the dogs, and an ambulance was called. I moved his head to rest sideways rather than backwards to open his airway, and over about 15 minutes, I continued to try and get a response from him. While doing so, noticed he had an open bag over his shoulder, so I carefully reached into the bottle that was visible on top. I had wondered whether it would be methadone and hoped it might display his name on the label, but it was an empty, unmarked bottle of Oromorph. Underneath the bottle were several sheets of codeine and pregabalin pills, all medications which are often misused. It was now clear to me this was an opiate overdose.
Still having no idea who he was I spotted a ‘burner’ phone in his pocket, so slowly removed it, and called the number of someone who had last text him, thinking they may be able to offer an identity. After a couple of calls, I got through to his sister who have me a name and a brief mental health and drug misuse history. I then called the 999 dispatch back and asked for an ETA on the ambulance as the lad’s breathing was worryingly intermittent and I was certain he’d overdosed. They couldn’t give me an ETA, but advised me to get him to the floor, which I did, and tell them every time he took a breath. Another woman had waited with me this whole time, and she came closer, holding my phone on loudspeaker as I knelt beside the lad. After around 1 minute and only 3 breaths, we were advised we needed to commence chest compressions. I began, counting to 200 before another passing dog-walker offered to swap out with me. As he became tired, another man swapped in, and then the women holding my phone took a turn, and so we went around until the ambulance arrived. His sister also managed to cycle down around the same time to be with him as he was taken to hospital. As the paramedics took over, I grabbed my coat and left, wondering what had become of the situation.
The following day, the sister had posted on a local Facebook page, thanking those involved for saving her brother’s life. She informed us he’d experienced a respiratory arrest, and that our actions had saved his life.
Sadly, it’s not the first time I’ve found someone this way and successfully performed CPR, and I can say it’ has had a lasting and profound effect on me. I’d like to say it’s no big deal and that anyone in my position would have done the same thing, but I know that’s not the case. Many would have felt unsure how to respond other than calling an ambulance, and some may have even kept walking. Saving a person’s life is not inconsequential and it gave me a whole new appreciation for our wonderful NHS, the first responders, paramedics, nurses and doctors who keep people alive each and every day. Saving a life is a big deal because life is precious, and by connecting with each other as I and his family have along with others in the community after the public social media post, we can bring meaning, value and hope into each other’s lives, particularly in the post-COVID era where so many precious lives have already been lost.