Sandy Murphy and Diane Blathwayt, staff at Paper Plus whose actions saved a man’s life. PHOTO/EMILY IRELAND

Staff lauded after helping man with brain bleed
Saving a life ‘just part of the job’

Emily Ireland

Saving someone’s life isn’t in the job description for retail workers.

But that’s exactly what two staff members at Masterton’s Paper Plus did.

They were recently rewarded for their efforts at a national conference, winning the Paper Plus Group Values Award for 2018.

It was August 2017 when Sandy Murphy and Diane Blathwayt were helping a Paper Plus customer who was trying to buy a book.

What looked, on the surface, like the symptoms of dementia, was actually something far more life-threatening – a brain bleed.

The man, who was “an older gentleman” could not remember his PIN for his Rabobank EFTPOS card and after many failed attempts had blocked the card.

This wasn’t out of the ordinary for the two staff – many older people forgot their PINs every now and then.

But when the same man came back the week after looking unshaven, more confused, and dishevelled, alarm bells began to ring.

“He was in a worse state than the week before,” Sandy said.

He couldn’t even remember his name.

Worried about the man driving home on his own, Sandy and Diane asked if there was a family member they could ring for him.

“He said he had a family member down in South Wairarapa, but all he said was their last name,” Diane said.

The staff ended up reaching the man’s sister, who was soon on her way to Masterton.

In the hour-and-a-half wait for family to arrive, Diane and Sandy occupied the man, who was becoming noticeably agitated that they were trying to keep him at the store.

“So, we had to keep him occupied and showed him books . . . we had to wander around after him and keep him distracted.

“You could tell things weren’t right. He was very confused.”

When the man’s sister and brother-in-law arrived, they took him straight to Masterton Medical to be checked over.

“We didn’t really think much more of it other than, good, he is being assessed,” Sandy said.

“A couple of days later, the sister came in with a box of chocolates for each of us and told us that he had actually had a brain bleed and he had been taken to Wellington Hospital and had emergency surgery that night.

“They didn’t think he would have survived.

“We were quite shocked. We didn’t pick that medically he would be so unwell.

“We were very relieved that we made that call for him not to drive and that we insisted on somebody coming.”

A few weeks later, the man’s nephew came in to Paper Plus to thank the women and told them his uncle had successfully come through surgery and had gone into care.

The family suspected the brain bleed had stemmed from an injury two weeks prior.

“They tracked the start of it through his chequebook,” Sandy said.

“His card hadn’t been working for two weeks because he couldn’t remember his PIN and so he had been writing the cheques out to pay for things.

“It had been a slow subdural haemorrhage – that’s where it bleeds slowly and then you end up with so much blood on your brain that it can be fatal.

“We were quite surprised.”

At a national conference for Paper Plus, the pair’s efforts were acknowledged and celebrated.

The man had since died.

Sandy and Diane insisted they were “not heroes” for getting help for the man that day– “it’s just part of the job”.

“We have elderly people come in here daily just to say hello because they don’t have anybody else,” Sandy said.

“Sometimes we hug people in the card aisle because they are buying sympathy cards.

“Retail is so much more than just selling stuff to people.

“Especially in a community like this . . . we have a very caring team.

“We were able to do what we did for that man because of the people we work with and the boss that we have.

“Not every business is going to say it is okay for us to follow an old man around for an hour-and-a-half.

“We don’t feel like we’re heroes, we just helped somebody when they needed a hand.

“And we do that every day.”