The tube is packed, brimming full of commuters who are heading home after a long day at work. I blend in with the masses, the only thing potentially giving me away that I haven’t spent my day at a desk is the stripe of reflective tape on my dark green uniform trousers – people probably think I am a street sweeper. The train snakes its way through the tunnels, passengers swaying gently from its sidewards movements. All doing the standard practice amongst busy public transport worldwide; people keeping to themselves, hiding in their own worlds by means of books, headphones and blank stares. All unaware that instead of coming from work, I am on my way to work. Well, not technically work, as I’m on holiday. Maybe an adventure holiday of sorts?
I’m on holiday for a reason: to relax and recover from the stressors of work, and catch up on some sleep that shift work has robbed me of. What better way to achieve all of the above by going out on a night shift in one of the biggest and busiest cities in the world? See, just my point.
Apparently it was a typical night out, with communication breakdowns being an integral part of the shift as I struggled to exchange words with patients. We were either cancelled (~54% of calls), and didn’t get to see them, or thick foreign accents and a poor grasp of the english language prohibited clear communications (~36% of calls). One the patients was in cardiac arrest (~10%), which didn’t help much either (dead people don’t tend to be too talkative anywhere in the world it seems).
But let’s start from the beginning. I met Mr InsomniacMedic (hereafter known as IM) at his his ambulance station, where he was dutifully checking his bags for the upcoming shift. We jumped right in to it, IM showing me what he carries whilst on shift, whilst I dutifully munched on a banana (he hates the things). After a brief introduction to the station, its surroundings and inhabitants in green, we were ready to go…if the car had have been there. The day shift paramedic was on a late call, and was delayed bringing the vehicle back. Too bad so sad, time for a cup of tea for IM and some answers from me: What the heck is an Ambulance Officer? I had genuinely confused the crews with my uniform and its associated emblems: Officer is a rank that designates a managerial position within the London Ambulance Service (LAS); was I some sort of manager seeing how things were working out on the road? But why is the uniform different, with all that reflective stuff…new uniforms begin introduced? Upon closer inspection: St John Ambulance Shoulder Patches – are you a volunteer? What are you doing in London, how long are you here, is it part of an exchange programme, where are you off to next, how do you like it here, how do you know IM? The last question proved to be tricky on occasion, I reverted to tactical silence and let Mr IM tell his colleagues we were either pen pals, or if they knew about the IM blog, that we were blog buddies. IM isn’t too fussed about secrecy in regards to his online precence – he just doesn’t want people to make a connection between the virtual IM and the real IM.
Educational poster at the station 🙂
The car is still not on station, but there is more to be explored. One of the Hazardous Area Response Teams (HART) are at the station too, and IM organises a quick tour with one of the HART team members. We don’t have anything similar in our service, but had read dribs and drabs about HART – so it was great to see the ins and outs of the trucks, what their area of deployment is et cetera. Basically they are their own self contained medic units wit breathing apparatus, CBRN suits, generators, Geiger counters, life jackets for water rescue, CO detectors. And bulletproof vests – the HART team are the tactical medics amongst the LAS too! Admittedly, they don’t get many call outs, and can get through night shifts without leaving the station, which makes them a great target for collegial jokes of being lazy, but – as a few paramedics point out – when the faecal matter hits the ventilator, the HART team are going to be right in the hot zone earning their money, with the rest of the service looking at them through binoculars from a safe distance. A place preferred by many.
Hart to Hart
The last bit of HART equipment had just been shown and explained to me when, by perfect timing, Mr Dayshift brings in Mr Vauxhall for another 12 hours of punishment, a.k.a. our Rapid Response Vehicle for the night had arrived. IM has been working permanent nights on the ‘car’ as it is known here for many moons now, and loves it. Initially hating the solo response and night shifts, it was the only way of managing family and work comfortably. Out of necessity came toleration, followed by appreciation of this shift pattern – nights bring out special people, roads are generally clear, and the emergency lights make funky patterns and shadows as they bounce off the surrounding cityscape. We definitely have something in common.
IM and myself got talking about spelling errors. Seems the LAS is not immune either!
We grab the car, have a brief chat to the day shift medic who seems like a thoroughly nice but mad bloke (must be an entry requirement). This is one thing that struck me very positively in the LAS: everyone was really welcoming, chatty, and interested why I was there. Seems everyone knows at least someone in Australia, or has been there on holiday, and was super keen to compare experiences. Professional comparisons were also very interesting, comparing organisational structures, skills, meds and of course my uniform (which was well received!).
Our office for the night. And a shot of IMs leg…pure hawtness!
The car is in a bit of a state – it has seen better days. I am told (and later experience) that everybody is so busy that there is hardly time to give them vehicles a clean – but then again they do get external cleaning agencies to mop their vans which is a nice thing 🙂
IM quickly explains the interior gadgets (SatNav, radios, job screen, procedures) to me, and leaves the best to last: the gloriousness of the electronic air horn!
Yup, his boots are as polished as he claims!
As our bags were checked, off to our first standby point it was, which for memory we didn’t reach. Somebody, somewhere had dialled 999 and we had been automatically activated as the closest vehicle. We never found out who called, and why – we just got told an address to go to. No priority, no details, no name, no nothing. Bit dodgy if you ask me, sending a single paramedic to an unknown scene. Violence and knife crime is not unheard of in London, and crews tell me they frequently drive past addresses of calls like these until more details, another ambulance, or the police arrive as well. I should mention that we did ask for some details regarding this job – but whilst waiting for them, we were cancelled. Next job was similar – automatic activation, but this time we actually got some details about the job. Unfortunately the route we were sent on was blocked by a locked gate (two minds, one thought: WTF?!). Whilst finding an alternative route on the map, we were cancelled. In fact we were cancelled on the first five jobs.
Judging by my notes, further jobs included a ‘Railway Pume’ and an ‘Onion altney’. Maybe I should check my handwriting…
to be continued, stay tuned!