“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
– Mark Twain
Goodbye London, Hello New York. From one big city to another big city.
The UK was great, but I was really looking forward to NYC. The city had left some great memories from previous visits, aged of 7 and 12. Not recent, a little faded, the main recollections being the size of the place, the skyscrapers, and the general bustle of it all. With a slightly heavy heart, I board the plane at London Heathrow, hoping that I will be back soon (it was only to be just over a year until I return…).
One transatlantic flight later, and the plane approaches at JFK Airport. I am a little frazzled, and I get my time zones mixed up. Did I fly back in time, or ahead? It’s light outside…is that going to stay like that for long? Was that breakfast or dinner they just served? Hopping off the plane, daylight slowly starts to slip away, and my brain clicks on to the fact that this is dusk, not dawn. I also realise I have made a fundamental mistake: I have no address, and no map. Where is my bed for the night? Being able to sleep in anything else than a damp rock shelter in central park, fighting of pigeons and serial killers, relies solely on my memory of the google maps page I glanced over a week prior. Not a great start to a big city. But it is my only hope.
Fully laden, bags in hand and backpack on back, I head to the subway. It is dark. A little dirty. Not many people around. No signs showing any impeding arrival of any trains. Ten minutes go by. I seriously hope that this is the right platform. Twenty minutes. This is ridiculous. Others are getting a little twitchy, at least I’m not alone. I just wish…
…shuddering and squealing, the dirty and worn silver NYC subway pulls in to the station. There are US flags on every carriage…yes, this is really a patriotic nation (more on that later). I board, take a seat, and soak up the atmosphere. Dull lighting, the interior tending towards scruffy, and noisy. It’s the subway, a New York City icon. And I’m on it…probably even heading in the right direction.
Now, just for clarifications sake: I’m no racist. I have no problems whatever pigmentation your skin has or hasn’t got. I’m not fussed what background you have. What I must admit though, is being human, and thus unfortunately being sometimes unconsciously led astray by biased TV shows & news reports. I’d like to know the percentage of white vs. non white crimes (real and fiction) shown on TV. Sitting amongst many a person of hispanic and african background made me look around my shoulder twice initially, until I realised what a silly thing I was doing. Sure, practice safe habits in a big, unknown city, but be aware that the threat can come from anywhere, from anyone. Familiarity breeds a sense of security. Sometimes a false sense of security, but security nonetheless. In Australia, the number of people with african background is quite low, and the number of those with hispanic backgrounds tends towards zero. Familiarity breeds security, and this wasn’t familiar to me.
Mind you, it didn’t help when gangsta-kid diagonally in front of me, cap pointing in a distinctively north-east direction, and his jeans crotch hanging distinctively south, pulls out a thick wad of 100$ bills, and starts counting them in front of everybody. I don’t even want to know where that money came from. Avert eyes and enjoy the landscape outside (nighttime nothingness).
So far, I’m travelling just right. I change subways, get off a a stop quite close to where I believe I need to be, find a public map, and walk off through the night. Straight through here, the map said. This isn’t a road, it is a wide footpath between buildings. Groups of people hanging around, talking in a hushed tone amongst themselves. It is raining slightly. The tiny drops form a mist, only visible against the streetlamps, and palpable on your cheeks, yet covering everything after only a few minutes. Yet more groups of people scattered around. I command some odd looks walking past them. They must pity me as a lost tourist or similar. Unless they see me as an easy target and are just planning their final move how to attack me. I’d be an easy target, with 20 kilos strapped to my back I ain’t running anywhere fast. Just keep telling yourself you’ll be fine. All is good. I am safe. NYC has as changed since the 80’s. It’s been cleaned up. AC/DC’s song comes to mind. But I’m not happy with the current situation. More groups of people. The walkway turns in to a deserted road. It is still raining. Now nobody is around. If I die here, it will be daylight until my corpse is found, exsanguinated, lifeless, damp, cold and pale. What a miserable…
LOOK, A POLICE STATION!
At least someone should hear my last scream before I die, and maybe my body shall be spared beginning its decomposition in the middle of the road. And what is that? A fata morgana? No…the Youth Hostel! I am saved! I will survive my first night in NYC!
I check in, I enter the room, my head hits the pillow, I sleep. Busy days ahead…
…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.
So, there I was, in the middle of Edinburgh. Out of London for a few days, like a holiday within a holiday. Quaint and cold Edinburgh.
I am meeting up with Kal from Trauma Queen for a coffee and a chat. There is no room inside the cafe, so outside it is then. At least it’s not raining, just a little chilly, grey and glum.
Until a cheery chum comes walking up the street. His gaze meets mine, the blind date-esque look of “I don’t know who I’m looking for but I you’ll do the trick”.
Blind date no more, as we are now blessed with direct vision of each other. Via twitter and SMS we’d arranged to meet – the wonders of modern technology.
Kal’s real name is not Kal. It is actually Sal. Mal. Or Val? Pal? I forget. Everybody in the service knows about his blog, he is quite open about his writing (he is quite an open person full stop). The only reason for the pseudonym he states is for the patients – he does not want to arrive at a job and be recognised as the author by a member of the public (in Edinburgh your first name is embroidered on to your uniform).
A really nice chap, we chatted about this’n’that, our backgrounds, growing up in different places, and working in different services. Warm liquid and sweet nibbles later, a shift was sorted…time to experience the dark side of Edinburgh – a night in the Rapid Response Vehicle!
– ~ –
We were walking up Edinburgh’s Royal Mile . Kal suddenly pulls me aside with a strong tug on the arm.
I throw a quizzical look. I nearly stepped on this:
The Heart of Midlothian. Don’t step on it. Listen to a local.
Why? Is it sacred? Will the gods strike you dead with a lightning bolt? Will you set off the secret alarm for Batman? Or summon the transformers?
No. People spit on it. A tradition of ancient, kept up until now.
Only in Scotland.
Edinburgh immediately made a good impression on me. There was something in the air (aside from the rain), a certain je ne sais quoi, that inspired my creative cells. Soaking all of it up, it was only a little later when I booked in for the Edinburgh Literary Pub Tour (a must if you are in Edinburgh!) that I realised the rich artistic history the city has, and that many have been inspired before me.
Here some snippets in stone:
“There are no stars so lovely as Edinburgh street lamps”
“It’s a grand thing
to get leave to live”
(I couldn’t agree more!)
“Knowledge is high in the head…
but the salmon of wisdom swims deep”
“Go back far enough
and all humankind are cousins”
and yet, this New Road
will some day
be the Old Road too”
“You intend to bide here?
To be sure,
can you think of anywhere better?
“We can only pay our debt to the past
by putting the future in debt to us
All this made me want to write. May as well write in style! Analogue blogging, accompanied by a big scottish breakfast. From left to right: A4 pad, pen, OJ, egg, sausage, haggis, bacon, tomato, baked beans, black pudding, toast, butter.
Many apologies for the long wait. It has been over a year that I travelled the UK, US and Canada comparing some international Paramedic Services. I did publish my tales from London, but never got round to refining and blogging the stories from the rest of the trip. They will appear here in chronological order over the next few days and weeks.
In the mean time, I will be writing up current stories of my current trip, my move from Australia to the UK, via South Africa, Germany, Israel and Cyprus.
I hope you enjoy, and, as always, all feedback is welcome!
As mentioned recently, I will be heading overseas for a little holiday – eight weeks touring foreign lands with strange dialects, such as England, Scotland, the United States and Canada.
And I want YOU to be there too!
- London: Wednesday, 4th of May at the All Bar One Waterloo, 7pm. @insomniacmedic is helping organising this one!
- Edinburgh: 9/10/11 of May
- New York City: 15/16/17/18 of May
- Toronto: 19/20/21/22/23 of May
- San Francisco: 24/25/26/27 May
I will also be passing by Portland, Seattle & Vancouver early June.
Get in touch with me via a comment or the contact section above – would love to meet as many of you as possible. Even if you aren’t around but still have some travel tips, you’re more than welcome to share 🙂
See you out there!