FOCUS on the ambulance service and the A&E department at the Conquest Hospital. JULIA NORTHCOTT suddenly finds herself in need of calling 999.

julia northcott, deputy content editor, bexhill observer
julia northcott, deputy content editor, bexhill observer

LAST Monday started out just as normal - out of bed, washed and into work clothes, onto train, into the office and head-first into the Bexhill Observer.

All was well at around 10.15am: I was almost finished with the clubs page, the news list was growing and I was down to cover Rother District Council’s Services and Overview Committee meeting that evening at Bexhill Town Hall.

I’d just finished a coffee and I was in the office on my own (my colleague had gone out to get some milk) when suddenly I started coughing, choking and fighting for breath.

I tried to sit still, but ended up pacing up and down, trying not to panic and becoming more and more dizzy as I realised the situation was not coming to a stop.

So I dialled 999 and asked for an ambulance. The operator kept me going by asking me all kinds of questions and refused to let me put the phone down until she knew my colleague had returned.

She assured me help was on its way but that I must stay with her. By now I was doing my best to stay calm, but nothing prepares you for the body going into panic mode when something this unexpected happens.

First, an ambulanceman in a patrol car named Steve 
arrived. He sat me down - I was still fighting for breath - took my blood pressure and immediately radioed for backup. Then two crew turned up in an ambulance - Andy and 
Mark - and got me into the back of the van and said they were taking me into the Conquest Hospital in Hastings. I had an ECG, blood pressure and oxygen levels read, and also had my mind somewhat taken off the situation by being jollied along with great good humour.

I don’t know how long exactly it took to get me to the Conquest but I do know it was in minutes. By now the immediate crisis had passed, but the A&E department still wanted to find out what was wrong. There had been blood involved while I had been coughing, you see.

I was given a bay in which to lie on a trolley, where I had another ECG reading, a blood test, another oxygen levels test and was eventually given a chest X-ray. All in all this took around three hours, and was carried out efficiently with minimal discomfort.

Everything thankfully came back clear and the consultant concluded that I’d had some sort of irritation in my right lung, and a fit of coughing had burst a blood vessel there.

Funnily enough I was still suffering from the after-effects of a severe chest cold and the evening before I’d brought a load of vinegars to the boil to pickle some shallots for Christmas.

The NHS is taking a lot of criticism at the moment, so the purpose of this Friday Feature is to highlight when things do go right - and it’s impossible for a journalist to write first hand about an emergency situation such as this unless they have experienced it for real.

This was a somewhat frightening morning but I was so well looked after - by the 999 operator, the ambulance personnel and all who helped treat me at the Conquest Hospital’s A&E department - that it was less scary than it might otherwise have been.

I learned later I was a category A call, the highest grade call there is, as I was classed as having a blocked airway.

So a big thank you to all who helped me when I needed it. Up until then I had always thought being carted off in an ambulance would never happen to me, but it turned out that I was in the best possible hands.