Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?

Some shifts felt like surreal dreams, they couldn’t have been real. When days off came round, you’d find yourself thinking “did that really happen?!”. But this is daily life in front line emergency care.

You meet your fair share of people lacking…”basic intelligence”…out there. Often alcohol or drugs are a contributor, sometimes it’s just how they are.

This is, in no way, a dig at any nation (#spottheparanoia). The job was an assault in the city centre, around 2300 (11pm). We arrived to find two police officers with a French person who had been set upon by some locals. I think, quite quickly, that I worked out what may have caused them to get the urge to do so. The patient instantly gave off an air of arrogance, and backed it up swiftly with their attitude. “are you a private service?” they asked, with a thick French accent. I stated we were NHS, and asked if they were on holiday or resident in the UK. We established, eventually, that they were studying in this country. Having managed to convince the patient that we were currently the best they were going to get, they, reluctantly, got into the back of the ambulance. Having done a full top to bottom examination it was clear that the injuries were mostly facial, but I advised they went to A&E in case there were any I had missed, possibly even a concussion (unseen injuries that result from blows to the head). The patient agreed. On the way they began to quiz me on the quality of care they should expect. “The same as everyone else” I stated. Then they asked about the broken teeth they had received during the assault. Would they be fixed at the hospital. I said it wasn’t likely. “then you must take me to the airport!” they demanded. They got agitated when I tried to explain the difference between an emergency ambulance and a taxi. Then they demanded an explanation as to why their teeth would not be fixed at A&E. In a moment of kindness I decided to save them from the wrath of the nurses he was about to meet, who would have no tolerance for his attitude. I began to explain in clear term what A&E was and what would probably happen there. I explained that their broken teeth were not a medical issue, that they were a cosmetic problem. “Cosmetic? What is cosmetic?” they said indignantly. I tried to explain but to no avail. Then I had a brilliant idea! This was the 21st Century, and I had a smartphone….with Google Translate! I typed in “cosmetic” – English to French. The translation arrived quickly. With a grin I read it out to the patient. Oh…”cosmetic”. It was exactly the same. The patient still didn’t get it, so I showed them. “ohhhh. “cosmeteek”” they said.

By this time we had arrived at hospital and my grinning partner was opening the rear doors of the ambulance. I stood up and walked out the vehicle. The patient followed me and, after a very brief handover, I left them in the less tollerant hands of the nurses. They would sort that attitude out.

Occasionally we would come across incidents that hadn’t been called in yet. One such incident occurred on a junction of two main roads as we were leaving the city to return to our station. A crowd was gathered just off the junction, in the middle of the road. As we slowed to have a better look, we saw someone lying on the road, the crowd having gathered around them – RTC. My partner pulled over and parked the ambulance in a position to protect our new patient and activated the vehicle’s blue lights. I jumped out and went to investigate the situation while my partner called control to inform them what was happening.

The patient had been on a bicycle and had been struck by a car at the traffic lights. A swift top to bottom examination revealed no neck or spinal injuries, and the patient’s headgear and clothing had protected most of their body. There was, however, the possibility of a fracture, maybe even two, to one of the patient’s ankles. I was on my knees beside the patient talking to them when I felt a tap on my back. “What’s their name?”. Confused, I turned round to someone on their mobile phone. “Sorry. What?” I said. “What’s their name?” the phone person repeated. “Erm…..Who are you? Why?…..What?” was the best I could muster. “It’s the ambulance. On the phone. They want to know their name!”. Okay. Think. What?! I pointed at the back of my uniform shirt, thinking the word AMBULANCE embroidered there might be a clue. Mobile phone person looked blankly at me, so I pointed at the big white van with the blue flashing lights. Nothing. “Can I talk to them?” I asked in despair, my hand held out for the phone. Still unsure of what was going on, the person handed me the phone and I identified myself to the call taker. “Oh hello, I think your partner is on the radio to your dispatcher.” “Uh-huh”. I updated them on the situation and the patient’s suspected injuries. I handed the phone back, just as the police arrived and moved the, still confused, owner away from the scene along with the rest of the spectators.

I found out later that the French patient tried to give the A&E staff grief and was swiftly asked to vacate the department by security. I wonder if mobile phone person has ever understood what happened. Probably not.

Those were two of many real jobs that seemed very unreal looking back. They happened though, I was there!

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