In-jokes are a part of every job. If you’re easily offended, I suggest you close this post now. I make no apologies for what’s coming.
My first days in an ambulance mess room were memorable for many reasons, some more than others, but it was the first time I had truly encountered that dark humour of the ambulance crew. It’s a humour I struggle with now I’m back in “normal life”, because no one else gets it. To many people it’s offensive, to ambulance crews it’s essential.
I was based in the big city at the beginning, the mess room was a busy place. A crew had just come in from a suicide attempt, a hanging. When asked about the job the jokes began about “hanging out with the patient”, the patient was “hanging around” when they arrived. The puns went on. I was horrified. How could they be so disrespectful, so blasé about the loss of a life? Another job, also a suicide. This one reported in the papers, stating “unfortunately the patient died before the ambulance arrived”, brought ridicule on the crew for taking so long to get there. The fact the patient was very dead before anyone had called for an ambulance was irrelevant.
I learned very quickly why this humour exists. It’s a coping mechanism. A way of dehumanising jobs. A way to make the things we saw acceptable, bearable. Nobody saw what we did. Nobody else understands. When we got home our partners didn’t ask how our day had gone, not because the weren’t good partners but because they hadn’t seen the things we had that day, they hadn’t experienced the emotions we had, they could listen but they would never understand. Most did the right thing and didn’t try.
During my time a crew was reported for being seen laughing in the front of the ambulance on the way to an emergency. I still don’t know what was going on in the head of the person who made that complaint. Not sympathy, not care, not gratitude. Nothing good. I know what the crew were going to, and what they saw. I know why they were acting the way they were and I know it fully justified.
Frontline emergency care can be a dark place. Your crew mates are your only support because they are the only ones that actually know what you are going through because they are going through it too. There is no room for uneducated “do gooders” or interfering members of the public who think they know best.
Being a front line member of any ambulance service is a unique way of life, and the lows are mostly bearable because of the highs, but until you have experienced the life first hand, please don’t condemn the seemingly twisted humour. Don’t frown when a crew member says something that sounds uncaring. If they didn’t care, they’d not sign on again and again, knowing there was yet another heartache out there….waiting, ready to take on their defenses. And if they make a joke that you find unfunny, or possibly even offensive, show your support and laugh anyway. And please don’t look down your nose next time you see the crew of an ambulance laughing on the way to a job. Their professionalism, dedication and commitment is being demonstrated right there – they are potentially on their way to something most people will never have to see or deal with, what you are seeing in that cabin is nothing more than their way of coping.
“Alpha 62. Purple call…..”