A night in Edinburgh
Kal picked me up en route to the depot, in the car with us TrickyDicky, another cheery chum of a paramedic. We chat on the way to the station about this’n’that, and I am given a quick rundown of life “on the streets” in Edinburgh, and the set up of the service in the city.
Edinburgh has one central ambulance depot; all ambulances and rapid response units (RRU – pronounced ‘roo’ (do they hop? -Ed)) are dispatched from here to various standby points around the area as needed. There are different types of standby points: ‘serviced’ stand bys include toilet and kitchen facilities, usually found as annexes to fire stations, and ‘unserviced’ stand by points (a.k.a. street corner). Dispatch doesn’t like sending crews to the latter, as they can only be allocated to such a place for an hour at a time, then they must be moved – just too much work. Two 20 minute uninterruptible meal breaks are given to each crew per 12 hour shift. I am impressed by this set up!
We pull up to the station. All the paramedics on duty are welcoming and some ask why I am wearing an odd uniform – some maybe not quite as curious as in London, but that may have just been chance. Having said that, I was only wearing half a uniform (plain shirt with uniform trousers). Occasionally I had to interject in conversation with a polite “excuse me, could you repeat that please (I didn’t understand a #$%&ing word)”. I love the Scottish accent, but, similar to women, I don’t always fully understand everything that is said.
Kal sorts out his stuff, and we head to our assigned RRU. He checks his drugs, shows me through the bags and I poke my nose around the car. Interestingly, all the vehicles in Edinburgh have manual transmissions. Different (I’m used to autos everywhere in Australia), but everybody seems to like it that way. I would find it awkward to have to balance emergency driving, shifting and speaking on the radio simultaneously, plus I don’t see the upsides of a manual transmission (apart from cost savings); more work and less smooth. From a stretcher point of view, the vans either have ramps, the newer ones tail lifts like in London – great for manual handling and having a long lasting career (and back)!
The last few pockets of equipment are checked, and right on time we receive our first job, a gentleman in respiratory distress. We race off, and I am impressed by the siren switch: double honk of the horn activates the siren, a single honk changes from wail to yelp, and another double honk turns it off again. Simple yet brilliant (a.k.a. what I want in my dream ambulance).
We arrive on scene, and while grabbing the gear, Kal turns to me and stats “I shall now adapt to the environment”. Silently hoping that he can, by magic, change his bright green uniform to a dull grey house facade colour in true chameleon-style, I realise what he means five seconds later when he comes out with a Class-A Scottish accent. As if he had lived in Edinburgh since the day Arthurs Seat [LINK] was plopped down by the god of rocks.
You see, Kal isn’t from the ‘burgh, and therefore doesn’t normally speak with a Scottish accent. To blend in, and be accepted with the Scottish crowd, he fakes it. The locals feel more at ease with a familiar accent. Reassurance – even if it means speaking funny – is key – it’s all part of patient care!
On scene, vitals signs are checked and treatment is commenced. I can’t help myself but to fall back in to ‘driver mode’, and ask for patient details and medications (sans faux accent). Kal seems to be happy to have an additional pair of hands with him tonight. I’m more than happy to help.
The ambulance arrives, and I am thrown a quizzical look by the paramedics. After an explanation, they nod to acknowledge the information offered, but an air of bewilderment stays. It’s not everyday that an Australian on holiday turns up observing!
We retreat to the car, and Kal types up a few notes, and we are clear for the next job. Every vehicle has a tablet for electronic patient care documentation. For the RRU, short ones are written up, then added to the transporting crews documentation.
I ask about the personal side of the service, how everyone gets along. He states its like a big family; not only does everybody know each other in the Edinburgh region area (approximately 140 staff), Kal says he’s been out with them all, had a beer and met the family.
Another beep, and we are sent off somewhere, but cancelled nearly immediately – memories of the recent shift in London are awakened (where half the calls sent to us were stood down). But more work is just around the corner. We are sent to a female with chest pains, top floor of a large apartment block. The norm in most of Europe, in low density suburban Perth it is a bit of a novelty when we go in to a block with more than ten parties. It turns out that our patient is probably suffering from anxiety attacks again, her husband is able to translate most of the questions, but not everything adds up. We have a few minutes to spare until the cheery crew pulls up with a chair to take the patient to hospital (and an interpreter).
Don’t miss part II, full of blood, huffs and creeps!