Silly people all around
bringing frustration to my day,
I wish I could just huff and puff
and blow them all away.
Far away and out of sight
finally I would be free,
of people not sharing my point of view
now left only with people just like me.
But oh, alas! No-one there
to do the things I can’t do,
Who will research cancer,
Who will make my shoes?
So in the end, a lesson learnt
no use to whinge and groan,
We’re in this all together
we can’t get there alone.
“Unglücklich das Land das Helden nötig hat”
– Bertolt Brecht, “Das Leben des Galilei”
InsomniacMedic and I had a discussion on the latest topic on his page: “Unsung Heroes“. He writes that the term “Hero” is used far too often, and applied broadly (and all to frequently blindly) to many a person who hasn’t done anything heroic.
I agree, and would go even further. But before I give you my opinion, let’s all start on the same page, and get the definition straight:
hero Pronunciation: /ˈhɪərəʊ/
noun (plural heroes)
- a person, typically a man, who is admired for their courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities: a war hero
Like any definition, they are subject to personal interpretation.
Latest teenage pop sensation? Could be admired for their outstanding achievements…
Latest world-class footballer? Could be admired for their outstanding achievements..
Latest life-saving paramedic? Could be admired for their…
Hang on a second, old chap. What an outstanding achievement is to you, doesn’t necessarily make it one to me. Me? I’m a paramedic. It’s what I do. It’s what I’m good at. I may have saved a life or three. But I couldn’t have done it without the hospital staff. Or the guys who built the ambulance. Or those who made the defibrillator that shocked the patient from Ventricular Fibrillation to a normal sinus rhythm. They’re all people doing what they do best, helping put the pieces of the puzzle together.
The day had come: Time to see what New York City Paramedics do. The grime of the city. The hustle and bustle. The intensity. The size. New York City. I was excited.
I had sorted a shift out from Australia via some contacts (thank you again if you’re reading this!). A few emails and a phone call later, I’m booked in. After borrowing The Worlds Smallest Ironing Board from the hostel, coupled with The Worlds Worst Iron, my crease free shirt (NOT!) and I were on their merry way to Brooklyn.
The Subway, or any underground train for that matter, is a semi-magical type of transport. Descending in the the depths of the earths core, you are whisked away in a steel can on wheels, propelled through a network of subterranean tunnels, only to submerge in a completely different biotope.
I felt like I had come out on the Wrong Side Of The Tracks:
…and when you’re in f*ckin’ Brooklyn, you best watch your back!
Woah. Dirty streets, rubbish lying around, big mean-looking guys with tats walking around. A dark freeway underpass. A broken fence. I looked around, and felt like the proverbial sore thumb sticking out. No one really took notice of me, but There was no way in the world I was going to do anything to draw further attention towards my person. No way was I taking my iPhone out to take pictures. I made sure my valuable were as safe as possible, and out of sight. I morphed in to “man on a mission”, and headed straight to the ambulance station, trying not to leak any signs of curiosity of the neighbours or indeed the neighbourhood. Because I was just that – curious. But I was attached to my health and my life. (I’m sure this was a bit of an overreaction, but you can never be sure…and this was precisely the landscape that is always portrayed in various US gang films…).
I arrived in one piece at Maimonides EMS depot (pronounced May Mo Nuh Deez. Maimonides was a medieval Jewish Scholar). Phew. Knock Knock? Noone. I walk in, and am greeted by some paramedics, who direct me upstairs to the supervisors office. A few doors and some very narrow stairs later, Henry greets me with a big smile, welcomes me, and eagerly gets right in to it: “Let’s head downstairs, I’ll show you around and introduce you to the paramedics”.
We chat for a short while about the service, but then his phone rings and Henry excuses himself. “Grab some food in the meantime! It’s EMS week, help yourself, go right ahead”. Well, free food, can’t decline a friendly offer, can we? The banquet had been ransacked by earlier crews (it was early afternoon already), but still plenty to be had.
Eventually, some people in uniform wandered in, who turned out to be the medics I would be riding with soon. We go through the different kit they carry, compare each others respective guidelines and protocols, and are bleeped immediately for a standby position. You see, in New York, all Ambulances except FDNY (pronounced fid-nee, or fud-nee if you’re from New Zealand) get dispatched from street corners, not from stations (more on that in another post).
Halfway to our streetcorner, we are sent on our first job. Oh yeah, this ALS truck is now running hot! Big, boxy, bouncy, bad. Together with the fine and silky smooth roads (NOT!) of NYC, it would make for quite an unpleasant ride if I were not so excited. And another thing: Drivers of all emergency vehicles are quite playful when it comes to sirens: wooowoop. wup. wuup woop. wooohoooowailwailwail. woop. wail wail. HONK yelp yelp HiLo. HONK woop.
A haemophiliac in a high rise building has called, thinking he has broken a bone. We’re in “The Projects”, the New York term for low income (generally ugly high rise) housing. And I get the picture pretty quickly: Dark and dirty entryway, a lift smelling of stale urine with goodness-knows-what smeared over the graffiti. Creaking, the lift sneaks us up multiple floors, spits us out in a tight hallway, where mum (or should I write mom) awaits us: her brother has a bleeding disorder, heard and felt a snap in his thigh, which is now slightly swollen and tender. And he can’t weight bear.
Luckily we have the carry chair handy.
Our patient is comfortable as long as he isn’t standing, but the upper leg is tender to touch. All vitals within normal range, declines pain relief, so apart from monitoring and transport there is is not much more to do.
We arrive at hospital after an uneventful transfer where, once again, it becomes painfully (for the seasoned US medic, not me) obvious of the stretcher systems that are in place in most of the US & Canada: Person A must hold half the patient + stretcher weight, whilst Person B must fold or unfold the legs of the stretcher. Man, you gotta hold a lot of weight, that can’t be good for your back! I think that topic alone is worth an additional blog post (at the risk of even more wrath in the comments section)
Back in the van, restocked and roomy (yes, this thing is rather large), we are sent to our street corner again. Not a bad corner, as far as street corners go: Close to a major road, yet quiet, a supermarket for food nearby, and free public WiFi.
And we wait for another job.
And fall asleep.
A nine hour shift with one job. It’s light. Nothing. Then it turns dark. Nothing. BLS crews whizzing past us on lights and sirens. NYPD screeching past. Firetrucks honking their airhorns as they hurl past. But this ALS crew isn’t needed anywhere.
What would NYC be without EMS? Only half a trip for me!
My first encounter with an ambulance. It conveniently parked in front of me, inconveniently the fence would not move out of the picture, despite much begging and pleading on my behalf (note to self: fences a much better behaved back home).
That day, twitter came to the rescue for my evening plans. Murphy (@Murphquake) told me about the Dinner Presentation that was being put on for EMS week by the NYC Regional EMS Council. A free event? Dinner? I’m there!
And there I was. Standing there, in my lonesome, in a big hallway, people with all sorts of uniforms coming and going. I enquired politely about the evening at the entrance desk, explaining that I was a visiting Paramedic from Australia.
“AUSTRALIA!? Wow, come right in. What T-Shirt size are you? (wow, free tshirt too??). Here, grab one, head that way, the buffet is in that corner, help yourself, grab a seat anywhere you like, and enjoy the evening. Speeches etc begin in 45 minutes. Here is a guide to the evening. Enjoy yourself!”
Right, thats sorted then. I may not know anybody by face, but there is free food, lots of people in the same profession, and a few empty seats around. Jump right in, I say.
With a precariously heaped plate in each hand, I navigate myself to a table where people seem cheery enough to accommodate myself. Turns out they were a whole family dedicated to EMS, from Daughter and Son in law right through to the grandparents. We got some great insights from each others country over copious mounds of food (this is America after all), and I was asked if I was heading out on a shift in New York at all. Even before I could answer, one of them had run of to fetch ‘a friend of theirs’, who came back shortly after. I was introduced to Barry, one of the Paramedic supervisors in the Borough of Queens.
“Here’s my number. You call me tomorrow, and I’ll get ya sorted”. Spoken in a perfect New York accent.
This was going to be excellent.
Next month, the 2012 Paramedics Australasia Conference will be held in Hobart, Tasmania. I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the 2010 and 2011 conferences (and even present at the last one), so it is a little sad that I’m missing out this time.
Two things I ask of you:
- Please attend the conference
- Please keep me up to date by live-tweeting the conference with the #PAConf2012 hashtag.
Pure selfish reasons, I know, but I do want to keep an eye on the mob Down Under, they are a good bunch!
London, a cultural melting pot. Three Paramedics, three nationalities. What brings us together? A proper english high tea. How sophisticated!
I am sitting on a comfortable chair with soft music playing in the background, and a tower of cucumber sandwiches, cakes and scones in the frontground.On my left is the ever smart and slick Benjamin Gilmour, author and filmmaker of Paramédico fame who is here on ‘business’, running from one book signing to another, with the odd radio and television interview thrown in for good measure. On my right is the ever smart and beautiful Lysa Walder, author of Rapid Response and Katie the Paramedic.
I took a bit of a back step, and listened. Two authors, who are first and foremost experienced paramedics, talking about their background, reasons for joining the job, and their why they began writing. Fascinating being part of such a combination; feeling the inspiration, the passion.
It was a great afternoon, learning, networking, sharing. I’d love to tell you more right now…but I think I may have been inspired for a future project, and I don’t want to give everything away just yet…
In the mean time, please visit Ben and Lysa’s respective websites, and strongly consider ordering their books – you won’t regret it!
Here I am, in the middle of London city,
Writing prose and trying to be witty
Yet slowly going nuts I swear,
With far, far too much time to spare!
Now registered with the HPC,
I realise I must do some CPD!
So off the the North West I go,
To listen up and enjoy the show!
Yes, it CPD time, Ladies and Gentlemen! After having signed up with the College of Paramedics, I thought I may as well jump right in, and have booked myself in to “Managing challenging incidents in the pre hospital environment”. Looks to be a great event. Have a look at the poster, and hoping to see you there!
2006. I had just moved to Australia (again), working in IT, leaving my volunteering role behind. It was, after all, “just a hobby”, a thing on the side. And now, Down Under, there would be heaps of new things to do and discover!
Not so fast, tiger. SBS was broadcasting a documentation on the Ambulance Service of New South Wales. I was only able to watch one static filled episode (SBS has notoriously rubbish reception), but it had piqued my interest: I wanted to know more about Paramedics in Australia! I had to have the DVD set.
Luckily, Ambulance NSW have posted them online for everyone. With cameras everywhere, this really gets you in the thick of the action. Enough text, jump right in, and enjoy the Australian way:
The next morning is cold, wet and grey. You’d think I was still in the UK, judging by the misery that was being presented looking outside the window. But I didn’t come here for the weather. There is a city waiting to be explored!
I headed towards the nearest subway station, and hopped on the next train towards the city. Though generally an organised person, my idea of initial city exploration is a jump in the deep end, immersing myself in the city with a basic map, and wandering around. And that is precisely what I did. I just started walking. It rained. I got lost. I had no sim card, hence not map on my phone. The rain mixed with the endless concrete made for a rather dull experience. I had ventured out of the ‘touristy’ area, roaming the backwaters of the financial district. Rather quiet, commuters scurrying to work trying to avoid the rain, heading towards another dreary day in the office I assume. A few passing cars. But no ‘life’. Not what I had in my memory of New York. A turn here, a corner there, that should get me back on track…let’s see where this takes me.
Ground Zero. All of a sudden, there are masses of people. New Yorkers and visitors alike, they are all around. A few steps away, a giant construction site. People every which way you look. All hurrying towards wherever they are heading. Workers carrying equipment. Drilling holes. Aking noise. Building.
And then it hit me. The realisation of where I was standing, just under ten years ago, the twin towers collapsed, burying thousands within. I was in Germany at the time (I’d actually just come back from the dentist), and remember watching the scenes on the television. Being awestruck, yet at the same time detached due to the physical distance between me and the events unfolding.
But standing there, on a dull and miserable day, with people surrounding me, I look down the streets and let my mind wander, my imagination takes over. The fear spreading amongst the masses. The horror of witnessing quite an unbelievable event. The terror of the unknown. All taking place in my mind. Those images of thick, thick dust covering debris littered streets?
I was right there.
Studying for my C1 licence here in London (you need a light truck licence to drive ambulances here, unlike in Australia), I realised that most North American Type III ambulances don’t have cab-mounted wind deflectors. Yet nearly all european box-type ambulances do.
Compare the wind resistance of the boxes of these two vehicles:
Far more streamlined, which would equate to better fuel economy, less running costs = $
Additionally, they deflectors can house warning lights, heating or air conditioning units, or more space for gear. InsomniacMedic pointed out that though all regular London Ambulances have wind deflectors, the Baby Emergency Transport Service (BETS Ambulance) does not, due to weigh limitations…it was either the deflector, or the incubator.
I personally believe that is the exception rather than the rule.
Now to you, paramedics, purchasers and coach builders, what do you say?