A nurse today told how a patient revealed she had called a relative to “say goodbye” because she feared she was going to die in the Grenfell Tower inferno.
Daniel Almeida, 30, a charge nurse at the Royal Free in Hampstead, said he feared for the long-term mental health of the victims, such was the emotional impact of the blaze.
“One patient made a phone call while in the building to the relative to say goodbye,” he told the Standard.
“It’s quite frightening. You don’t know what sort of consequences there will be, or what will happen in the future, after these sort of things.”The Royal Free received 12 patients, including children. All were suffering from smoke inhalation rather than burns. Several, including a child, had to be anaesthetised and intubated to allow their breathing to be controlled artificially. By last night, eight of the 12 patients had recovered sufficiently to be discharged.
Mr Almeida said one of the most difficult things was dealing with families that had become separated in the blaze, including a mother who was desperately searching for her child.
“We had a patient, and luckily this was one of the patients we could clear from a medical point of view quickly, who in the middle of all the chaos had lost her young child.
“Obviously the patient was not even thinking about her own health. It was all about the child.
“We tried to help as much as we could, and liaised with the LAS [London Ambulance Service] to get them information. You still feel helpless.” He did not know if the mother and child were reunited.
When the major incident was declared, people waiting in A&E were asked to go home unless their condition was life-threatening and the team of about 16 nurses and five doctors prepared for an influx of patients with burns and breathing difficulties.
No burns patients arrived – a situation believed to be true of all six London hospitals that treated more than 70 casualties.
Mr Almeida said: “We mainly had exposure to smoke and smoke inhalation. What is very important in this situation is to have a quick reading of their carbon monoxide levels. That involves a blood test.
“These patients all came in by ambulance and were already on oxygen. Depending on the [carbon monoxide] values, we would decide where to put these patients in terms of their severity and potential to deteriorate.
“They were shocked, generally speaking. They were not particularly talking too much, but at the same time they were disclosing some information to us when we were assessing them.
“It’s a thin line with what you are going to say to these patients, because you know what they have been through. We need to give them as much support as they want.
“Clearly the patients were in shock. They don’t even retain half of the information you give them.
“When they come to us, we do our best to help them. When the patients started to come in, they were in shock but they didn’t look particularly unwell. It was only when we started to have the blood results back that we realised that some of them were really, really sick.
“That is when we started to have close monitoring of some of the sicker ones and we have taken the decision to intubate some of them to avoid problems down the line.
“The benefits of intubation is that we can control the rhythm and depth and pressure of their breathing. They go to intensive care for this.
“We had a [staff] debriefing and I think everybody was quite happy how things went. We got these 12 patients but we were ready for way more. Luckily we didn’t get more. The main thing the staff were saying was that we help them medically but we were worried about the mental aspect of things. We can get them better medically but what is going to happen in the rest of their life?”
* An edited version of this story appears in tonight’s Evening Standard