I See Your True Colours Shining Through

This post is not the type of post I normally write. I started writing it a week ago, when Covid-19 was wreaking havoc in Italy. Now the whole of the UK is in lock down too. Phrases such as “self isolating” and “social distancing” are heard daily. Panic buying is gripping the country and creating scarcities of…toilet rolls and pasta, among other strangely random items. This is a very real threat to everyone’s health but, managed correctly and sensibly, the threat can be minimised.

As humorous as this may seem, and I hope these panic buyers are left with their stockpiles after this is all over, we are a country in genuine crisis and we need to think of other people’s needs too.

I was in the ambulance service during the avian flu crisis around 2007. There was similar panic in some areas, but nowhere near the scale we are seeing now.

Last night Britain applauded the NHS workers. People stood on their doorsteps up and down the country clapping. Some cities lit up blue in support too. This morning there are reports of someone who died “because paramedics left her at home”. Paramedics who have never seen anything like this before but are expected to know what to do. Paramedics who are out there ill equipped with protective wear, doing their best in an unknown situation.

Now is not time for sensationalism. Its a time to pull together, to recognise the work people are doing to try to keep us safe. Not a time for negativity and blame.

It seems to be a time when people’s true colours are starting to show: people refusing to stay at home to contain the virus spread, shops and other unscrupulous people trying to charge extreme prices for essential items like toilet rolls and bottles of hand gel. Peopled stockpiling those items unnecessarily to the extent that there are no stocks available for other people who actually need them. Today I heard of youths going round coughing and spitting on people, threatening to ‘give them the virus’!

But more and more, people are rising above this. Every day there are stories of how people and companies are showing support, stories of acts of kindness.

I recently spoke with a bus driver friend who told me of a wheelchair user struggling to get on their bus. Someone helped push the wheelchair on the bus then, rather than get on the bus as a passenger, they walked away. It transpired that the wheelchair user didn’t actually know them, a random stranger, not afraid to help or scared to touch the wheelchair lest they contracted Covid-19.

Another friend saw an elderly person fall while trying to walk up a steep incline near some houses. They were helped by three random strangers who crossed a main road to assist. Yes, we need to exercise caution, but we also need to practice common sense. At a time when social distancing and caution are very important, concern, care and kindness are also equally important.

Ambulance crews, nurses, doctors and all the support staff are working hard to cope with the Covid-19 outbreak. No-one knows how long the crisis will last, no-one knows how long it will be before a vaccine is discovered. Still these people go to work, knowing they will have a busy day ahead. But it’s not just about them. The country still needs to keep going – bus drivers to take people to work, store staff who put up with still rude and selfish shoppers, lorry drivers who tirelessly keep supermarkets stocked, Police officers, Fire crews….right down to the people who keep the streets clean. All deserve some kind of thanks for keeping the country going. Some coffee and fast food retailers were offering items free to emergency workers, but that ended when they were forced to close.

Most of you readers will know much of this already, but how many of us show kindness to these people ourselves? How many of us keep an eye on our elderly neighbours or offer to do shopping for others when we’re doing our own? How many of us say “thank you” to the bus drivers, say nice things to the supermarket staff, or give a thumbs up to the emergency workers? Now, more than ever, we need to stay positive. Boris Johnston was recently likened to Winston Churchill, and I suppose the Second World War was probably the last time the whole world saw times similar to these. We are all in this together, whether we like that idea or not. Kindness is free, and it actually feels good. If we all act together it will make this crisis a whole lot more bearable.

Please listen to the experts – Stay at home whenever possible! Wash your hands as often as you can. Social distancing and all the other rules were devised for everyone’s safety. To defy them unnecessarily is selfish and also puts yourself at risk.

During times like these we tend to see peoples’ true colours coming through. Are yours something you will be proud of when it’s all, finally, over?

Thanks for…..nothing

Patients and relatives sometimes felt the Ambulance crew that had attended them deserved a proper thank you. We were not allowed to accept gifts from patients or their families, something most of us were quite happy about about if the truth be told.

Instead, many sent in cards. In my area, these cards wod usually go to the main office for the area. Rather than send the relevant crew the card, the crew received a photocopy of the card and a stock letter of “commendation” from the main area manager…..signed by their secretary. I have a few of these photocopies and the accompanying letters, all say exactly the same, word for word. It showed no gratitude, no respect, no interest. Did the big boss even know their secretary had sent them to the crew? Were they even bothered? That’s how it felt when we opened the envelope.

But we knew that the originator cared, and that we had made a difference. That was worth so much more than the letter that went with it all.

My station won area team of the year once. I’m still not sure what that meant – no big congratulations, no rewards, no pat on the back or recognition…from anyone. We all got a photocopy of the certificate in our pigeon holes though, and we actually got to put the certificate on our mess room wall, in the frame we paid for ourselves. We also had to take it down each time there was an infection control inspection on the station.

During my training we were warned about taking sweets from patients. We were told the story, probably untrue and embellished more each time it was told, of the crew who went to take an elderly patient into hospital. As they put the patient onto the ambulance’s wheelchair to take them out of the house, the patient told them to take a bag of nuts for them to eat in the Ambulance. Gratefully, the crew accepted. On the trip to hospital the patient said to the attendant in the back “I hope you enjoy those nuts, I can’t eat them. I can suck the sugar coating off them but the nuts are too hard. It’s my teeth you see.”!

It was still the best job in the world, I said from the start that, if one in every few hundred people said thank you, it was worth it all, and the people who mattered were definitely grateful.

When I’m 64(ish)

Older people are great. They’ve been through a lot, they’ve seen a lot, and some have given a lot, but many don’t expect much in return.

“I don’t want to bother you”, “someone else needs the Ambulance more than me”. Both phrases heard on a regular basis by ambulance crews, often from very ill patients.

One patient was in the middle of a huge heart attack when they said that, as my partner and myself watched it develop on the defibrillator screen. They were put straight and rushed into hospital! A common one was the patient lying on the floor with a broken hip. The ball at the top of the femur can be fragile in some older people, and often broke off. The fracture was known as a #NOF – fractured Neck Of Femur. We’d regularly turn up to such jobs to be told “I’m sorry for wasting your time”, the patient in agony and unable to move!

Many times the patient had just fallen out of bed and, although uninjured, they just couldn’t get up and back into bed. Sometimes this was a more serious event and further action was taken. Often they just required us to help them back into bed. We rarely stopped there. Whenever possible, we’d put the patient’s kettle on and make them a warm drink, settle them before we left (most had catheters, in case you’re thinking the obvious).

I realised quickly that, other than a carer, we may be the only other people that the patient might see in a day. Sometimes we’d sit by the bed as they drank their tea and listen to their fascinating stories. All they wanted was someone to chat to, and we were there to care for them so it was our job to listen.

Sometimes Control would radio to “check we were ok”. Ie. They needed a crew for another job. If it was serious we’d go, if not, we’d stay a bit longer. An executive put out a memo once stating that crews were spending too long at jobs and suggesting a time we should allocate to each job. This executive had clearly no idea what our job actually was, otherwise he’d have not chosen to make a complete fool of himself. That memo was instantly filed in File 13 – 🗑️

Older people deserved respect, and we weren’t going to deny them that so the figures on a computer screen somewhere looked good (the same went for other types of call). We did our job and targets had no place in there.

I once discovered we weren’t the only ones that respected older people: We had been called to a house, somewhere in the middle of nowhere for a patient who had fallen in their living room (?#NOF) , along a narrow country road. As we got closer we discovered a long stretch of roadworks ahead, closing one direction of travel, under the control of stop/go boards at each end. As we approached, Blue light on, the worker with the stop/go board at our end Bbegan frantically talking into his radio. He held his hand up to stop us and we waited until a couple of cars came through, then he waved us on. The satellite navigation showed us the house was somewhere along the stretch of roadworks, but we couldn’t find the access road. We got to the other end and asked the road worker to hold the traffic while we did a u-turn and had a second look. We reached the other end and the first road worker flagged us down. They asked where we were looking for and he looked blank, then he asked who the patient was. My partner and myself were pretty sure we couldn’t give out that information “Is it *****?” they said. “Erm….yes actually”. Ah right. Again he spoke into his radio. “Two of our chaps are with them. They went up to the house for their tea break. It was them that called you”. It turned out that the workers had closed off the original entrance because of its location, and we were swiftly directed to the new one. The road workers had been checking up on the patient daily, looking after them.

Never underestimate what an older person may have done for you. Don’t be disrespectful. What you are able to have and do may, in some part, be because of these people. Simple acts of kindness go a long way.