Ron McCartney was getting into an ambulance for the last time. This ride would take the Gold Coast resident into palliative care after a years-long struggle with cancer. But his paramedics found out he had a final request – so they took a detour to make it happen.
According to McCartney’s daughter, Danielle Smith, her father was “generous” and “an absolute blast,” as she described him on Facebook. “You were so funny. We were always laughing,” she wrote. He had a soft spot for all his family, and especially for his wife, Sharon.
“You had a way with the ladies, but always had mum at heart,” Smith wrote. She even shared photos of her parents on May 13, 2018, the date on which her father asked her mother to renew their wedding vows – Smith described it as “the MOST beautiful thing.”
But not everything in McCartney’s life was so happy. Smith said her father’s cancer diagnosis had come after his brother had received similar bad news. “It was only that my Uncle Charlie was in [the] hospital sick from this horrible disease that he told his brothers, ‘Go and get yourself checked,’” she wrote on Facebook.
Her father had listened and, after his trip to the doctor, McCartney learned that he, too, faced a battle with the disease. “That’s how he found out he had the disgusting strain of prostate cancer,” Smith wrote. He would go on to fight his affliction for 17 years.
By the summer of 2018, though, McCartney’s struggle was winding down. The 72-year-old was preparing to enter palliative care, a normal step in treatment for cancer patients. It’s designed to improve a person’s quality of life by reducing pain, anxiety, nausea, depression and other symptoms that come with serious illness.
When the moment came for McCartney to go from his home to the hospital for the last time, Sharon called on the Queensland Ambulance Service to take him there. Paramedics Hanna and Kate arrived to transport him.
Upon their arrival, Kate and Hanna made their routine observations of McCartney. Even though his wasn’t necessarily an emergency transport, it’s a paramedic’s job to assess a patient’s condition before moving them or administering any care along the way.
During their assessment, Sharon made mention of her husband’s diet for the previous 48 hours. She said “he had barely eaten anything,” according to the Queensland Ambulance Service’s Facebook page. That’s why Kate and Hanna posed their next question to McCartney.
“We said, ‘If there is anything you could eat, what would it be?’ And he gave us a cheeky grin and said, ‘A caramel sundae,’” Kate recalled on TV news station Channel 9’s Today show. She added that she and Hanna “looked at each other and we said, ‘We reckon we can do that.’”
So, the emergency vehicle made an unusual and unscheduled detour – it pulled into a McDonald’s to order its passenger a sundae. The paramedics faced one unexpected hurdle in obtaining the tasty treat, though.
Kate told the Today show, “Unfortunately, the truck is a little bit too tall to go through the drive-thru, much to our disappointment, so we pulled up out the front and Hanna looked after Ron and I just popped inside and got the ice cream.”
That one unalloyed act of kindness touched the hearts of everyone in the McCartney family – especially the patient himself. The Queensland Ambulance Service’s Facebook post said, “Sharon […] emphasized the enjoyment Ron received from such a simple action.” Indeed, Smith reported that the last thing her father ate on his own was the caramel sundae.
As such, the entire experience meant a lot both to her and her mom. Smith expressed her gratitude on Facebook, commenting, “Thank you so very much to Hanna and Kate. Dad enjoyed this so much. […] Mum and I cannot thank Queensland Ambulance Service enough for all the help and compassion you have all given towards us each time we have had to call you.”
Queensland Ambulance Service shared the family’s message – and the photo of McCartney digging into his sundae. It did so because the story demonstrated “an often unseen aspect of patient care – the caring,” it wrote on its Facebook page.
The post garnered 20,000 likes and thousands more comments and shares. Many lauded the paramedics’ compassion, including Facebook user Mellissa Keune, who served in the same role. She said the story highlighted the real life of a paramedic.
“Most of our work is hand-holding, offering an ear, laugh or care. It’s too easy to focus on the lights and sirens aspect of the job, but THIS is what the real meaning of the job is. To be privileged to spend the last moments with a person is one of the most humbling in my career,” Keune wrote.
As for McCartney, he passed away on September 1, 2018 – a few days after his special ambulance ride. And following her father’s passing, Smith used Facebook to raise awareness and donations for cancer research. She said her followers could reach out to Queensland Ambulance Service to donate to them, too.
What’s more, Smith also urged others to undergo the same screening that her father had. The tests in question helped grant McCartney 17 extra years with his family, and the procedure can help others, too. Most people should start undergoing the tests at 50 years old, although some are more at risk than others. Indeed, the American Cancer Society recommends that African American men and those with a family history of prostate cancer should start screenings at 40 to 45 years old.
And the importance of screening is clearly a message that Smith is eager to get across to the general public. “We would like people to be aware that just because you may look and feel okay, men you still need to get yourselves checked out. As well as [women]… Get your yearly check ups done, Smith wrote. She added, “When you hit that ripe ol’ age, get your prostate checked and get your breasts checked. Men, too, can get breast cancer.”