And now, the time is near… is indeed time to face the final curtain. I’m closing down this blog. It’s served its function and now it’s getting a bit expensive to keep.

I began writing it to get things out of my head and to maybe help other people who might be going through the same or similar as I did. Thank you to those who read my posts, I hope they were a help to those who needed it, or that some understood where I was coming from.

Onwards and upwards. Please don’t forget to support your frontline health workers. NHS help and support is still lacking, but it’s improving in some parts of the UK.

All the stories I mentioned here are true and actually happened. Now they’re out of my head it’s time to move on.

Moreton Rhodes

Who Wants to Live Forever?

We thought she would. No one expected to wake up that morning in a country ruled by a queen, and go to sleep that night in one ruled by a king, but it happened and it caught many people off guard.

Since I can remember Queen Elizabeth II was there, inspiring, always the same. She’s the only royal with no scandal or hidden history. She has kept us right on many occasions and, whatever your views regarding her, been a positive constant when politicians and other royals were failing.

My gran was a huge fan so I was brought up to respect the authority of our monarch, something that seems to have faded in recent generations. Now the Royals are seen more as a tourist attraction or source of media attention (for all the wrong reasons) than they are a ruling body.

In 2012 the Queen celebrated her Diamond Jubilee. I was part of the ambulance service at the time and I, along with all other emergency workers, received the Queen’s Jubilee Medal. I was proud of it, not because I’d done anything special to earn it but because my dad was a medal collector and had passed away that year. I was sad he passed before I got it, I’d have loved to show it to him. I took it to his grave the day I got it, but it wasn’t the same.

Also, the day my dad passed away, on hearing the news I got into my car and drove. When I stopped driving I found myself in Ballater, the village next to Balmoral Castle, where the Queen passed away

I’ve spoken to a few friends and colleagues who feel the same as I do right now – uneasy and uncertain about what comes next, none of us were expecting this.

Social media has, once again, proven its toxicity, but also it’s decent side. Some wise person posted this:

“The Queen is the nation’s last constant. She – not the monarchy, she personally – is the last institution that has not fallen into disrepair, disregard or distrust. I don’t think we were remotely ready for her loss!”

In a world that seems to be going more madder by the day, suddenly our one constant has gone from us.

Whether you are a fan of the monarchy or not, it cannot be denied that she will be missed.

All we have left now is “God save the King!”

…but that doesn’t actually rhyme with “A fascist regime” (Anarchy in the UK – The Sex Pistols).

True Colours II

“Ah wow! You must have seen some sights. What’s the worst thing you’ve seen?”

Because I’m meeting lots of new people, my past employment has come up a few times in conversation lately, and the above is the usual response. Even people I met months ago have asked when they find out.

I’ve not yet found a polite or sensitive way to tell them that “the worst thing I’ve seen” is actually part of the reason I don’t do the job anymore, and I really don’t want to have to remember it again. I know their intentions are innocent, but even though I have mostly come to terms with the things I did and saw, recounting them as stories can still sometimes still trigger unwanted memories.

For that reason I have my list of stock stories I tell. Some gruesome, some funny, some “sad”, but all detached from my emotions long ago.

But sometimes they want more. They ask probing questions and those aren’t helpful.

I recently applied for a different job with my current employer. Basically it was to run a hospital simulation suite where future medical staff might get as close to realism as they can before they are dropped into the big bad world.

During the interview I was asked why there was an inconsistency in my job history after leaving the ambulance service, a few different jobs, all short term. Feeling brave and thinking maybe it’s time, I mentioned the possiblity of PTSD. One of the interviewers jumped on this and asked if I’d be able to cope with the job I was applying for because of this. Completely thrown by the question I stumbled a bit and realised that the interview was over and it was pointless continuing!

The public don’t know most of what medical staff see or go through, from the person who takes the 999 call to the person who discharges the patient. Sometimes just a smile or a “good for you” is enough when you find out what someone’s history involves. Often they don’t want to talk about the specifics. It will definitely have affected how they see so many things in life, but let us volunteer that. Let us choose when and what we share, when we choose to. Don’t try to remind us why we don’t do it anymore.

The other thing I often get asked is “Who is Moreton Rhodes?”. No, it’s not my real name…obviously. Moreton is a toy mouse that has been round the world with work or leisure trips. Rhodes was probably the worst holiday I can remember. There’s no significance in either but I thought they sounded good together.

Wind of Change

The terms “pandemic”, “Shielding”, “self-isolation”, “lock-down” and others that became common in conversations have become rare in discussions. Lock downs are barely mentioned now, only as bad time from that awful year that was 2020 and the conspiracy theorist nut nuts have mostly fallen silent. For two and a half years I managed to avoid the dreaded Covid-19. Finally it caught up with me, and it wasn’t pretty.

The current strain (Omicron BA. 4/5 at time of writing) seems to be rampaging it’s way through the UK with varying effects. Most victims suffer flu-like symptoms, My experience was that I thought I was going to die….for about 24 hours. My head felt like someone had been poking knitting needles in it, my body ached, breathing was painful. The next day I had the same symptoms as most other people – just like flu. I did however, on day four, lose my sense of taste and smell.

The dreaded second line in the LFT stick appeared, and showed on every test for 10 days before being strangely, but happily absent on day 11. Still I felt fluey though.

It struck me how complacent we have become. Did we end restrictions too early? Were the majority even following the rules properly? Should there still be some form of mandatory infection management – face coverings in built up public places and events etc?

I had a trip away and a concert booked for the day after the first positive test. I toyed with the idea of still going, but my conscience wouldn’t let me go, knowing I might be the cause of someone else suffering the same as I had….or worse! A former colleague put it well – “Us oldies have morals”. At the time, I wasn’t sure that was a good thing but now, having had time to reflect, I’d not have felt right had I travelled on a crowded train then sat at a crowded concert knowing I had Covid. Also, I’m not sure I’d have coped physically as I was still feeling quite ill. A week after testing negative I’m still feeling wheezy and I tire quickly, and coffee (and everything else) still tastes strange or of nothing.

Why am I typing this? My experience seems to be a common one at the moment. There were almost quarter of a million recorded cases in the last month, who knows how many unrecorded? Most were very mild cases, but some weren’t. We will definitely need to get used to living with this virus in time but, perhaps for now (at least until we have it as under control as possible) we need better forms of management. It hasn’t gone away, it has actually mutated again and will continue to do so. The sensible among us are vaccinated and that is clearly helping, but maybe, just maybe it’s time for a rethink on how we view this, still ongoing, pandemic.

Don’t Leave Me This Way

It’s all over the news – conflict (can we call it war?) in the Ukraine. Already thousands have died. Millions have fled. But its happening on our mobile phones and TV screens so we tolerate it.

I saw a twitter post of a young girl singing Disney in a shelter, possibly while her home was being destroyed. We get emotional but it’s not happening here so it’s ok.

A new hero has appeared – President Zelensky of the Ukraine. The passion he has shown for his country and people is inspiring. His humility puts other world leaders to shame. Its good viewing and makes great news…

Suddenly the nut nut putin (he doesn’t deserve a capital in his name) has threatened nuclear retaliation. Suddenly it is worryingly real. Nations are reluctant to intervene, but still we see innocent people dying daily, on ‘social’ media. This is a different type of watfare to what we’ve seen before.

This post isn’t about anything other than our blaze attitudes that have come with the digital era. If we don’t see it for real, it often doesn’t affect us.

I had coffee with someone from Syria a few days ago. I watched the situation there on TV and the socials while I got on with my life. Over coffee it all became real. They were there.

While we can’t intervene, we can still lobby our government to take in refugees. We can stop supporting companies that still trade in Russia. We can support aid companies financially.

“The road to Auschwitz wasn’t paved with politics or hatred. It was paved with indifference.” said a war historian (paraphrased). History might be repeating itself with a new evil dictator. Let’s not sit back and tell ourselves there’s nothing we can do. Let’s not use media-related indifference as an excuse…again.

You Give Love a Bad Name.

I’ve read a lot of news stories and posts on the socials about ambulance waiting times, and people who may or may not have died as a result of ambulance delays (the fact they don’t get investigated makes me sceptical).

We all know news companies and media companies love scandal and sensationalism, but why have a go at ambulance crews?

I regularly get messages from a friend and former colleague about the waiting times at their local A&E department. 3 hours, 4 hours… An ambulance crew doesn’t just dump patients at the door and trot off to the next job. They must wait for a nurse or doctor and give a detailed handover before they can leave. I know of one major hospital where the A&E department that was rebuilt and doubled in size a few years ago, and is still manned by the same number of staff as the old department.

Nor do ambulance crews hang around once a job has been allocated to them. Whe someone calls 999 (or 112) and requests an emergency ambulance the call taker will ask questions and follow an algorithm on their screen. The result will add the job to a list according to the level of priority the system decides. Ambulance crews have no involvement in this process.

There are, and always have been faults in the above system, and paranoia on the part of the call takers can often make smaller jobs into bigger ones.

Then there are the time wasters, the ones who know all the key words to use to get up the list, when they don’t actually need to go to hospital at all. And the ones who call for an ambulance because the waiting time for an appointment at their local surgery is too long (yes, that happens…a lot!).

These things all add on to the time before the job is even allocated to an ambulance. I could list many other types of time wasters.

Maybe, instead of the Scottish government talking of using the army to drive ambulances (so they can add to the waiting times standing in the queues in A&E departments too?) they and the other politicians could look at the overall problems and maybe find a sensible solution to the whole problem.

In the meantime, don’t take it out on ambulance crews. This problem is far from new, it’s been an issue for many years now. Those ambulance crews (and call takers, dispatchers, A&E staff…) are doing their best with what they have.

Those ambulance crews are the same ones you made rainbows for, the same ones you stood on your doorstep and clapped for this time last year!!!

Cruel to be Kind?

Kindness costs nothing.

Being based in a small rural hospital, we were part of the community. That meant patients expected a certain standard of care. We did our best to oblige but it wasn’t always easy. Some tried to take advantage, the majority appreciated it

An example : in the city, if an elderly person fails out of bed the crew take them to hospital, at best they return them to bed, check them over and drive away. In the country, we’d check them over and return them to their bed if they were uninjured. We’d make the patient a cup of tea and call a friend to see if they could come around to sit with the patient for a while.

The powers that be didn’t like this because jobs took longer and the figures on their computer looked bad, but we still did it.

When I first began with the ambulance service I was an Ambulance Care Assistant, a non-emergency transport driver. Even then we had memos saying we were taking too long when dropping patients back home after hospital stays. That’s because we took the time to settle them and make sure they were comfortable. We put the “care” in Care Assistant into practice. Kindness is free, if ambulance crews can’t show that, who can??

I recently called my broadband service provider to upgrade my service. The person who took the call was friendly, caring and kind. They listened and made me feel like I mattered, something that doesn’t happen often with large companies. If that kind of care can happen elsewhere, why were we being told we were wrong to make patients feel valued?

Many years ago I worked for a large mobile phone retailer. The company was based on a number of principles (I may have mentioned this before), the most meaningful one, the one that has stayed with me, being: Treat Everyone the Way You Expect to be Treated Yourself.

There’s nothing cruel about kindness. Now, more than ever, show some everyday and who knows what might come back to you.

Keep the Faith

Recently I was sitting outside a café with some other people. We noticed a bit of a commotion across the other side of the road. Some large seagulls were attacking a young pigeon, quite savagely.

I stood up and walked over to the scene scaring the seagulls away but, as soon as I turned away they were back. The pigeon was in a bad way but alive so I picked it up and walked back towards the café.

As I walked past the café and the others joined me, the pigeon passed away in my hands.

The people in that café must have thought I was a bit nuts, maybe I was, but I wasn’t going to do nothing. It may have been “nature in action” but my instinct was to try.

It reminded me why I joined the ambulance service in the first place – because I’m a rubbish onlooker and I wanted to help. It also reminded me of the many jobs we did that didn’t have the outcome we wanted. Even when we knew the situation was hopeless, we still tried.

Early in my career an older paramedic told me: “If it’s someone’s time to go, there’s nothing and no-one can change that, but we don’t make that decision!”. At that time the figures showed CPR jobs were around 5-8% successful, but everyone we were called to was in the 92-95% group until we had done our job.

Sometimes that was difficult, especially when you knew the relatives were watching. It would have been so easy to do nothing and tell the family it was over, rather than letting them hold onto some hope as we worked, but there was hope in us too, hope that this patient was one of the 5-8%, and we would never give up until
protocols said we had to.

We never beat nature, the lost ones were always lost but, to shake the hand of the survivor, the one who would not be there if we’d lost our faith – there are no words.

I’m Dreaming of a White… Easter!

It’s Easter. The crocuses, daffodils and other spring-type flowers are out. Lambs are frolicking in fields, and it’s snowing!

We appear to be winning the fight with Covid 19, or at least bringing it better under control. I had my first vaccination yesterday. Since I left the ambulance service I’ve become even more adverse to people poking needles in me, but yesterday I felt no pain. I wasn’t even aware the vaccinator had done it. Afterwards I asked if they were a nurse. “Yes, how did you know?”. I recalled that the only people able to administrator injections painlessly (should they choose to do so) were nurses.

The day after: no adverse effects yet. A few minor aches and pains, most likely psychological though. Now I’m wondering if the second dose might floor me. I’ve heard stories of healthy people who were floored after one dose, others by the second one. For that reason I’d made no plans for the next two days. I wasn’t scared of a bad reaction. A bad reaction is actually good…in a medical sense. It means that your body is doing what it’s supposed to and that your immune system is relatively healthy. I just wasn’t looking forward to it.

Do I feel safer? No. Do I feel more comfortable in shops or out on the streets? No. It’s a start, but the false bravado it gives people is still concerning. It will help to cut down transmission and infection rates, but no Covid vaccine is 100% effective.

We’re back to the words and terms that no one used until March 2020 – “social distancing”, “face covering”, “hand washing”. All are still vital if we are to get on top of this and prevent further spikes. Spikes = lockdowns. Nobody wants another one.

A little bugbear: face coverings have been a legal requirement inside public buildings for a long time. Some people haven’t quite caught in and continue to walk about without or with them under their chins, noses etc. Some people think they’re for their own protection, oblivious to the fact they’re for the protection of those around them. It takes around 3 months to potty train a toddler, Covid-19 and mandatory face coverings have been around for a year.

So, have a snowy, safe Spring. There’s light at the end of the lockdown tunnel. Here’s hoping people are sensible as restrictions lift so we can enjoy Summer, hopefully without snow!

Pretty Vacant

Far be it from me to question the intelligence of the patients ambulance crews deal with on a daily basis. What I will never understand is why anyone would put something into their body not knowing what it will do to them?!

I’m talking about the evil known as the “legal high”. A mix of things unknown to anyone but the twisted manufacturer, made into a tablet or powder, packaged in a colourful bag and given an attractive name, then sold in any unscrupulous newsagent or corner store. Everyone reacts differently to these concoctions, sometimes fatally!

These things seemed to go through phases of popularity and we were often called to…patients (yes, I’m biting my tongue) having adverse reactions to the latest ones to hit the shelves. Symptoms ranged from tachycardia to hyperventilation, although the latter was generally a result of the panic brought on by other symptoms causing the patient to believe they were dying.

Our biggest problem was that we had no idea what was causing the tachycardia or other, genuine, symptoms. Panic attacks could be calmed, but we still didn’t know the contents of the substance, and neither did the patient. This caused further concern at the hospital as they didn’t know what to treat. There was no toxicology report available for “Screaming Banshee” or “Red Dragon”….

Every time the patient would show us the wrapper the offending substance came in. Short of a name, there was no further information. No ingredients, no manufacturer or supplier details. The retailer didn’t care, it wasn’t their responsibility and it was perfectly legal to sell.

Every time we would ask the patient if they knew what it would do to them. Every time the answer was the same – “No. Am I going to die?”. Sometimes we had to restrain ourselves, fighting the urge to reply “Maybe”. Sometimes harder than others. We would often ask the patients why they took an unknown substance, not knowing what it would do to them, or even if it would kill them? The response was usually shrugged shoulders orbmumbled variations of “I dunno”. We’d then ask why they were so surprised when it did bad things to them, and why they’d called an ambulance. Once again, the shoulders and “dunno”.

Now I’m no longer in the job, I can say what I think. Nobody asked anyone to buy it, there’s no addiction (apparently) and no one forced anyone to put the stuff in their bodies. But it must take a pretty gormless person, to waste everyone’s time for an outcome nobody can predict, to take an emergency crew off the road to deal with them, and to actually pay someone (who doesn’t actually care if they live or die) for the experience.

I make no apology for saying any of this. If it causes offence you are missing the point. Just ask any ambulance crew who have dealt with these jobs!