Florian Breitenbach

Rettungsdienst und mehr

A night in Edinburgh, part II

…continuation from part I

We are sent to out to standby at one of the fire stations, one of the ‘serviced’ standby points. I has an annexe for a crew on stand by: couch, recliner, tv, kitchen corner. Unfortunately, the corridor to the toilet is creepy and eerily dark, which meant I had to engage stealth mode as I crept towards the loo door, wary of any supernatural powers that may be stalking my person. A single sound would have cut my journey short, resulting in wetting myself in sheer horror, thus eliminating the actual need to go to the toilet anymore. Not a good look.

Luckily nothing attacked me, and after done deed I safely returned back to the safe glow of the telly.

A great thing about meeting and shadowing a blogger like Kal is that you get to know the person before meeting them. A few times when Kal started to tell me something, I was able to continue the sentence for him. At first a little creepy maybe when a person you have never met from 15000 kilometres across the globe knows a fair bit about your life, but then Kal realised he had shared those particular tidbits online at some time in the past.

A call for abdominal pain comes in. My first experience with Nitrous Oxide, and I msut say, I am suitably impressed. Not intense nasal burning stench, no headaches, just a (bulky) bottle and a grateful pateint. It worked a treat. Seems a much better solution than Methoxyflurane, common in services throughout Australia (Any of you outside of Australia heard of Methoxyflurane? Yes, that stuff that is banned in the US by the FDA…).

From there on, repeat performance. Crew arrives, patient is taken over, we clear. As we don’t have a particular area to cover (well, apart from the whole of Edinburgh), no part of the map is sacred. From suburbia we are sent to the heart of the city for a person lying in the streets. It’s great being driven round the central city area, preceding the shift I had been stomping around there for a couple of days and actually got to know it fairly well.

The royal mile is dark, damp and desolate at two in the morning. The occasional lost soul  we come across scurrys off the road to seek safety from the onslaught of the great green and yellow checkered diesel roaring monster, lashing out in to every corner of darkness with it’s cutting bright blue beacons. EMS is a great way to get to see a different side of the city on holiday.

Whilst Kal navigates the some small and twisted alleyways, I contemplate my heritage – I have Scottish blood in me from four generations ago. Having it in me is one thing, little did I know that I was about to get it on me. We arrive to see a male lying in the middle of the road, bleeding from his head. Kal manoeuvres the car to block the road – the last thing we need is a car running over us! Our minds are going through the various possibilities. Assault? Hit and run? We request police assistance, and I go to stabilise his head, whilst Kal grabs a collar and some dressings. Turns out our friend had been drinking, fell over and cracked his head open…we are told that his friends abandoned him (great friends) and that he wanted to go home. All in a very merry (and inebriated) manner. A few minutes later the ambulance arrives (and the police, who are no longer needed), and via a backboard we get him on the the stretcher.

Scenarios like this make me think. Where I work, all emergency responses are via double crewed paramedic ambulances, witnessing the single response concept is new to me. I ask Kal what he would have done if he had have been on his own? “Stabilised his neck until backup arrives”. One pair of hands can be seriously ineffective in some situations. Many thoughts about safety and efficacy cross my mind. This is confirmed when we are sent to our next job, where we are sent to a house that Kal has been to before, a place that left a bad taste in his mouth. A dodgy place with dodgy people…not somewhere you want to attend without police. Luckily we are stood down.

We have a little spare time, and drive round to the digitals. Another cool thing about this shift is that I get to meet the people he frequently mentions in his blog. Here we are, popping by to grab something and ended up staying for a (cut short thanks to the next call) drink and chat. Later on, I meet Kal’s flatmate bambam avec cat.

Our next job reveals a small town moment, when the son in law of our next patient arrives  on scene, and turns out to be the owner of the paramedics favourite fish and chip shop. Proves you can never get away from people you know, there is always some degree of connection!

And as if to prove a point, the next patients TV size was inversely proportional to the living circumstances. This seems to be true everywhere you go, in the western world at least. We are attending to an unpleasant person in an unpleasant house surrounded by an unpleasant family at an unpleasant hour of the morning. One of those places where you want to scrape your boots on the way out. But they have a massive TV…stay classy Edinburgh!

Another Stand Down later, and the shift slowly comes to an end. We catch up on some sleep at the fire station, and I don’t need to go to the toilet until daylight scares all the monsters away. It’s time to head back to the central depot to hand the vehicle over to the day crew, and say thanks and bye to the Scottish Ambulance Service. Kal drops me off on the way home, where my weary eyes can only navigate me towards my room.

At the hostel people are waking up for the day.

I head to bed, with some great new experiences fresh in my mind.

A night in Edinburgh, part I

May 2011…

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!

Edinburgh: ParamedicPictures

May 2011:


With the notorious “Scottish Cuisine” in abundance, you won’t be out of a job anytime soon in Edinburgh.



At first I thought it was a police car. But then I realised the difference!



Guess who’s mug that is?



Different (in my experience) way of checking a patients temperature



All ready for a busy shift!



Honda honed and ready to go.



Edinburgh ambulance station



The man himself, with that awesome green uniform (seriously, I’d work there just to be able to wear bright green all day long!).

Note that he is actually not a man, or a paramedic, but an ambulance, although he does look quite different to the thing in front of him on four wheels.



Here be the front.



Here be the back.



Here be the insides!



I love night shift.
The day slowly comes to an end, and with it, daylight. The masses return home, to hermit themselves for the night, shielding themselves from the darkness. In darkness, strange creatures emerge from the fringes of society, emitting a multitude of cries varying from the joking, the drunk, the desperate to the downright insane.

Nachts sind alle Katzen Grau – at night, all cats are grey. The Germans have a great proverb for darkness. Streets begin to look the same, shadows become familiar, everything blurs in to multiple shades of grey; one suburb being a clone of them all.

Unless we are called. Our emergency lights bounce and ricochet off walls, street signs, windows; our siren wails a lonely echo between family homes; our floodlights pierce the darkest shadow in desperate search of a house number. Life and action is focussed for a moment at the scene of the emergency – until the scene is under control, we take off, and everything falls back in to quiet, soothing, yet eerie darkness.

– ~ –

I hate nightshift.
The restlessness, a pathetic excuse for sleep, comes abruptly to an end. The dreaded alarm bells have rung, tearing me from the temporary safe cradle of my comfy chair, releasing me in to a blurred stumble to grab van keys, glasses, a whiff of fresh air, and – hopefully en route – wakefulness. Eyes as dry as the Sahara and sticky as treacle don’t help the cause, neither does a mind as fuzzy as a duckling with an Afro. Moves are automated rather than thought through, communications at hospital are grunted rather than eloquently executed. The clock ticks by at quarter speed, every second seeming like a minute, every minute seeming like an hour until the end of the shift.

Once back in own bed, sleep is a raw necessity rather than something of pleasure or, heaven forbid, beauty. Raw, basic, primeval need for sleep drives me in to bed, hopeful to make up for some of the rest lost over the past hours. Never enough, but enough to keep going.

Limbs as heavy as lead, a feeling like your body is wading through the thickest of syrup, every move is a double effort. And that’s just to get to the fridge for some food. No motivation to go anywhere apart from a shower, and then maybe back to the fridge. You know your day is wasted, the lack of motivation stealing your day away, the lack of sleep stealing your health away.

But we still do it. Like an alcoholic, ecstatic about his next drunken stupor we knowingly race in to, and through, the night – just to awake with a giant hangover the next morning.

Like an addict, we keep coming back to the drug until it consumes us.