Wellington Free Ambulance paramedic Cheryl Watson. PHOTO/EMILY IRELAND
As a paramedic for Wellington Free Ambulance, Masterton’s Cheryl Watson is in the business of giving people second chances.
But last year, the tables were turned when she suffered a near-fatal bee sting.
It was March, 2017, and Cheryl was heading home from work when she was stung.
“I pulled over, got the bee out and went to drive off.
“Within that timeframe, my feet were searing with pain and itching.
“I thought it was weird because I’ve had bee stings before, and nothing like this had happened.”
Cheryl continued driving towards home, and before long was struggling to swallow and breathe.
Her husband met her at the door and phoned immediately for an ambulance.
“The ambulance arrived six minutes after the call – nine minutes from the event happening.
“In that time, my blood pressure had halved from a normal 120 to 60.”
Upon ambulance arrival, Cheryl was deemed a status two patient – serious, but not life-threatening.
“As my condition continued to decline, they called a status one.”
What Cheryl needed was an adrenaline infusion – these can only be done by an intensive care paramedic, and there is only one of these per shift in Wairarapa.
They were already on another job.
Luckily when Cheryl’s husband made the 111 call, he mentioned that Cheryl was a paramedic, and the news of her condition was passed on to an off duty intensive care paramedic who jumped in her car and headed to Cheryl straight away.
“By the time she was at the end of her road, they told her because I was status two that I should be fine.
“But she kept going anyway.
“By the time she got to where I live, they had called status one.
She turned up and started the infusion.
“It was all on for everyone around – for me, a lot of the memory is what I’ve been told.”
Cheryl was taken to Wairarapa Hospital and was in the high dependency unit for the night.
“My second chance was, thank God it happened when it did, where it did.
“If it had happened anywhere else where I was more remote, things would have been very different.
Looking back on the incident, Cheryl said she felt detached and “out of it”.
“The crazy thought process was when it first happened.
“Having had bee stings, I was thinking, why is this happening so badly?
“My sensible, medical head was saying, you are having an anaphylaxis, whereas my emotional head was saying, you can’t be because you’ve been stung before.”
She said there was a theory that if you are going to develop an allergy to bees, it will occur after the age of 45.
She is now on a programme to build up her immunity to bee stings, but she also must carry an epi-pen with her at all times.
The experience has encouraged Cheryl to “remember the human side” of her job as a paramedic.
“Dare I say, the outcome for me may not have been as favourable in other circumstances.”
Six years a paramedic, Cheryl’s career as a paramedic began in 2010.
She had been in a queue at Vehicle Testing New Zealand in Masterton when a man collapsed – “he was in full cardiac arrest”.
“I was the person who did community compressions on him until the ambulance arrived.
After the incident, Cheryl was offered a free extensive first aid course.
“When I did it, the tutor there asked me if I had ever thought about being an ambulance officer.
“I thought, no I haven’t.
“That night, I saw an ad in the paper calling for local volunteers in Wairarapa.
“I started as a volunteer, and then two years later, got a full time job with Wellington Free Ambulance.”
Along with her work with WFA, Cheryl is also the co-ordinator of the Masterton Community Patrol.
Wellington Free Ambulance is the ambulance provider for Wairarapa.
Their ambulance and paramedic service are free, and the organisation is largely reliant on community donations.
Cheryl has taken on the role of co-ordinating collectors for the Wairarapa annual onesie day appeal and can be contacted if you would like to help collect.
For more information, visit www.wfa.org.nz or email Cheryl on [email protected]
Second Chances is a Wairarapa Midweek and Wairarapa Times-Age series telling the stories of Wairarapa people who have experienced life-changing events and have been given a second chance.
If you would like to share your story, contact Emily Ireland on [email protected].