I’ll stand by you.

It’s coming up to that time of year again. The time when all the charities ramp up their appeals on TV and on the streets. All the main organisations have started. In his post, I’m not going to tell you who to give your money to. I just want to mention a few causes that I feel deserve extra support around now, a couple not often thought about. All have already been mentioned in previous posts but they are still important, perhaps more so to me because of my personal experiences with them (that is what this blog is all about after all).

Firstly, elderly people. Winter is a dangerous time for many. With fuel costs rising, hypothermia becomes an actual killer. When you casualty turn up your heating without, think of the older ones who can’t afford to. Loneliness is a huge problem too. Some elderly people may have recently lost their partner of many years, possibly facing their first Christmas alone. More than once I was called to such a person around this time of year, who saw no reason left to live any more and just gave up.

Those are the people who need practical support. Friendship, food, heat, people who show they still care about them.

Secondly, not only the people with terminal illnesses – also the frequently unsung heroes who support them. Family members, who are terrified that this might be their last Christmas with the loved one they are supporting. Also the support charities. The people who try to help it all be that little bit more bearable for everyone, while trying to walk away and hold on to anything they can to keep themselves going.

There are many others but finally, I want to mention one very close to my heart – of course, emergency crews, primarily ambulance crews. I’ve already highlighted PTSD, stress, depression…all the problems brought on by giving everything they have to help other people, while very few people give anything to help them cope. Suicide season is near, it’s a difficult time for ambulance crews. The ones who cut down bodies, who try to save someone after an overdose. Many times the patient doesn’t want to die, their “attempted suicide” is a cry for some attention, someone to show them that they are interested. That’s hard to walk away from at the end of a callout, but ambulance crews have to do it.

This next part is not an appeal, I just want to highlight a few charities that help with the situations I’ve mentioned, a couple I have been involved with personally:

For the elderly –

Help the Aged. Essential work with elderly people, especially at this time of year, with your support.

For victims of cancer, and their families –

Maggie’s cancer support centres. They provided a lot of valuable support to my partner after surgery. The staff are amazing and give more than we could have ever expected.

Two(ish) for the Ambulance crews –

PTSD999. PTSD is starting to be recognised more and more in our emergency crews, it’s not rocket science, but no one thinks about that when they see ambulances around towns and cities. PTSD999 is one of a number of charities highlighting this, and helping emergency crews up and down the country.

Frontline Coffee (https://frontlinecoffee.co.uk). Set up by ex-firemen, they have created a number of different very high quality coffees in various forms (beans, ground…), the profits of which support different emergency services. One of the blends is specifically for Tasc, an ambulance support charity that I know does good work from inside the service. They also give you the opportunity to send a bag of coffee to your favourite emergency services station so you can show practical support. Coffee and emergency services – genius!

And finally, one for all of the above –

You! You can give practical help to them all –

Keep an eye on elderly neighbours, cook something for them, show them you are interested in their welfare.

Ask cancer support groups how you can help, many require volunteers for events etc.

Emergency crews love when someone shows their support by dropping a box of chocolates or biscuits at their local station, or drops by on Christmas Day with a wee gift. I know this because I spent one Christmas Day single crewed, and was visited by a few people who made the shift much more bearable.

I hope this post hasn’t been boring, and that it has made you consider some of the groups I’ve written about. Don’t leave it to “somebody else”, be that somebody. They say Christmas is about sharing, I say it’s about caring too.

’tis the season

Christmas and New Year – the festive period. Parties, celebrations, presents, cheer, making merry, over indulgence, fights, depression, suicide……

It’s difficult to feel festive sometimes when your Christmas is filled with the latter. It’s sometimes known as “Suicide Season” by emergency personnel, a time when it becomes too much for some people and they try (and often succeed) to end the pain inside. Depression becomes a bigger problem for many who suffer, as they see everyone around them having fun and enjoying themselves. I’m not going to apologise for painting a bleak picture. It’s a very real one, and many ambulance staff are in the middle of it. It’s difficult not to feel it when your eyes are opened in the back of an ambulance.

Regular calls to city centres for broken ankles caused by crazy high heels and icy conditions. Revellers, drunk and incapable, filling hospital beds because there is nowhere else to take them, and to send them home could be fatal. Ambulances stocked with space blankets (large, foil blankets designed to help retain body heat) to wrap half dressed patients sitting on kerbs, feeling sorry for themselves.

Then there’s the obligatory Christmas Day stroke/heart attack. One Christmas Day I was on shift with a probationer. We began our shift at 6am and I explained we’d have at least one “stroke” or “heart attack” call that day to somebody’s granny or grandad. They told me I was being negative and that it was going to be a good day, so I suggested a small wager. It was an icy day, no snow, and we had a number of calls to elderly patients who had slipped and fallen on the way to the car as families were drawing together around the country. All our patients, and their relatives, were in good humour that morning. Then came Christmas lunch.

We had taken our own Christmas lunch in, and a couple of other crew members dropped by with goodies. Then it came – an elderly relative was having a heart attack after their lunch and was unresponsive. My partner was a tad disgruntled as we rushed to the ambulance. Because we worked twelve hour shifts, we drove six hours and attended patients for six. I had been attending all morning, now I was driver. We rushed to the job as I explained to my, somewhat naive, partner that it was probably nothing, and that the patient was probably just having a snooze after a large lunch. They called me a cynic and prepared themselves for the worst; having to tell a family that their loved one has passed away on Christmas Day is never pleasant. We arrived at scene and my partner ran inside, to find the elderly patient fit, well and wide awake, also extremely confused about all the fuss. Tests proved the patient healthy and that nothing untoward had happened. We left the family to enjoy the rest of their day and returned to our station. There I explained further the parasympathetic nervous system – simply explained, after a large meal the body diverts energy to digestion. This is why many people feel like a nap after something like…..Christmas lunch. For many elderly people this can be a deep sleep, often mistaken for unresponsiveness and a stroke or heart attack.

Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case, and ambulance crews give sad news to many families, more poignant around this time of year. While the Ambulance crews walk away and go to the next job, the relatives are left mourning their loss, often tainting future Christmases for years to come.

I mentioned depression and suicide at the beginning of this post. It’s real, and we don’t always see it in daily life, but if you know someone who suffers from depression, you can make a difference by talking to them. Don’t overpower them, just let them know that you are there for them, watch them and their behaviour. If you suffer the horrible effects of depression yourself, and watching everyone else enjoying themselves takes you lower, talk to someone. Perhaps even write a blog!

Ambulance crews can go through a world full of other people’s emotions at this time of year. Some of those emotions can get through their defences sometimes. I watched a programme on TV this week that ended with some statistics, one being that 25% of the UK’s ambulance crews will experience PTSD, one in four! There is little or no support from most ambulance services, and little or nothing being done to lower these figures from inside. Often seeking support feels like, and is viewed as weakness or failure.

I’ve spoken about charities that offer support before, but public awareness is also important. PTSD999 is a charity that I’ve also highlighted, providing support to all types of emergency workers. They have just released a version of the song Heroes to raise funds for the work they do, and to raise awareness of the need for such services across all the emergency services. The band is, appropriately, called Burn Out and it costs a mere 99p to buy the song via iTunes and Amazon Music. So, among the festivities and gift giving, help support the people who make it safer.

Another way you can lift emergency workers is to show your appreciation – a simple “thank you” if you see them out and about, buy them coffee if you see them at the petrol station on a night shift. Simple things go a long way.

As the great philosopher, Michael Buble, once said: “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas….”.