The One and Only

They say everyone in frontline medical care has that one job. The one that sticks with them, sometimes forever.

Mine was an 11 year old, hit by a van while they were actually playing on a dual carriageway. The van driver had no chance of stopping or avoiding them. I often wonder how the driver fared afterwards. For a long time I was angry at the parent that allowed them to be there, but then I realised that they had lost much more than me. I drive past the location sometimes on the way to places, there are still flowers and other tributes tied to a lamp post near to the site.

I know for one colleague it was the 15 year old we cut down from a tree in their garden.

This is not about doom and gloom. It’s about the fact we are all human. No matter how tough the exterior image, we all have the sleepless nights where we wonder “could we have done more”. The answer is always no, but that doesn’t help.

“Stress” was a common ailment in my time. Only now is it being recognised as PTSD. Still the support is not there. Managers still tell you to call a helpline if you’re struggling, rather than recognising the fact that you are not coping and dealing with it themselves.

The title of this post, yes, it’s from the Chesney Hawkes song. It was the theme song of my group during my training. We knew what we were getting in to. Our instructors were veterans and held nothing back.

But still we all went into it. From the first death, the first CPR job – we toughened ourselves and went on to the next job. Most of the public didn’t care, they just wanted what they felt they were entitled to. We did our job, many still do. Not because of the glory, there is none, but because we made a difference. I always said for every hundred patients, if just one says “thank you” then the job was worth it.

It’s New Year and most of us will have made a toast at midnight on the 31st. Something positive and forward looking. I want to end this post with a toast a friend sent me. A friend who still serves with an ambulance service despite a severe period of diagnosed PTSD, after their one job:

“Here’s to getting out of bed when you don’t really want to. Here’s to going to work knowing no one really cares. To doing your bit. To making a difference, to getting by, helping them ambulance types that need it. To making yourself available to the ambulance types that haven’t realised yet that they need some help. Cheers!”

Afternoons and coffee spoons.

If an army marches on its stomach, many ambulances run on caffeine. I once heard someone in a coffee shop, in the queue behind me, state “if you want to know where the good coffee is, look for the Ambulance outside.”. Its the only time I got away with parking on yellow lines. Traffic wardens (or whatever their title is at the moment) used to wave at us, often from behind us in the queue!

12 hour shifts, especially night shifts, often required multiple cups of coffee to keep me going. The only problem was trying to sleep when I got home. Worryingly, I found, over time, that stopped being a problem.

A family member got involved in the coffee culture in the city they live in a long time ago. Their coffee snobbery turned me slightly snobby. I had already lost my taste for most instant coffee, then the “microground” varieties became popular. A small tin would last a week or so, but I blame that on the fact they were so small. I knew all the good places to buy coffee in my city, and the ones who made it quickly for ambulance crews. The staff in one store, part of a huge chain, even started making mine as soon as we pulled up outside, and it was ready at the end of the bar by the time I got inside, free of charge.

I knew it was bad when one of the dispatchers deliberately sent us to the areas of certain coffee shops when they put us on standby in the city. We were always happy to do them favours. One of the local petrol stations, with a good coffee shop attached, even started to offer ambulance crews free coffee through the night. The intention was obviously to get us to fill our vehicles there, but we didn’t mind because we didn’t pay for the diesel. Unfortunately that ended because some crews abused the kindness.

Probably 75% of the time we would end up drinking our coffee, whatever the origin, lukewarm or cold. Inevitably we’d get a job, or a few in succession, shortly after the kettle went on or we left the coffee shop. Friends still comment on how long I leave my coffee before drinking it, even though I’m no longer waiting for an emergency call.

Now I get to sit and enjoy my coffees more. I drink less, I think, but I’m still a bit of a coffee snob.

I don’t think it’s an addiction, more of an appreciation…