Since the first series of the tense BBC2 documentary An Hour to Save Your Life aired last year, Sky 1 has added the drama equivalent Critical to its schedules. Both count down the minutes of that crucial first "golden hour" in emergency medical treatment and scrutinise the life-or-death decisions of highly trained teams. The difference, of course, is that even without Lennie James's furrowed brow presiding over the operating table, in documentary the stakes are much higher.
This opening episode of the second series, "Between Life and Death", focused on cases where the patient's survival was even more dependent on speedy diagnosis than usual. In Yorkshire 11-year-old Blake had been hit by a car. It was the break to his leg that caused him most pain, but air-ambulance paramedic Darryl was more worried about Blake's sudden loss of sight. A few miles away, 61-year-old Tony had been struck down with severe pain while getting dressed in the morning. He was one of the lucky 50 per cent of abdominal aortic aneurysm patients to survive beyond the first few minutes, but, as his doctor pointed out, "even if you do make it to hospital, there's a very significant chance that you won't survive the surgery to repair it."
Meanwhile, in central London, 26-year-old cyclist Janina had been crushed under the wheels of a HGV causing massive internal bleeding and subsequent cardiac arrest. "Effectively the heart had nothing left to pump around to her brain and other organs," explained Dr Simon Walsh, one of several medics who described their split-second decision-making in later interviews, in a manner professional, yet never detached. As Janina's anaesthetist said, "You're constantly aware that this is a beautiful young woman with a life, with a family and it's heartbreaking."
They were all heroic – although Simon, who performed open-heart surgery in the street, was particularly so – and all spoke with the same direct, calm tone that's nothing like the mid-surgery screaming common in medical dramas. Still, the small clues in their dress and mannerisms were intriguing enough to suggest there's no real "type" in emergency medicine. With the help of ever-advancing medicine, they're often they're able to rescue even the most severely injured patients from the brink of death but, as this episode showed, sadly, that's not always the case.Reuse content