Driving the point home.

Bad drivers….. We’ve all seen it, some have been victims of it. When you’ve been to RTCs caused by it you find it hard not to get angry about it. Warning – controversial, blunt and slightly angry, comments ahead!

Bikers, or “organ donors” as they are known by some ambulance crews, are often the most annoying. Whoever stated they should be allowed to “filter” through queues of traffic (drive, usually at silly speeds, between rows of queued cars) must have been a bit disconnected with reality. Bikers, in my experience, come in two types – the sensible ones who act like genuine road users and the dangerous ones who think it’s fun to drive fast and have no interest in the potential devastation they could cause to other peoples’ lives. At this point I expect any bikers reading this to be cursing me. If you are one of those, I would love to give a list of relatives who have lost loved ones to bikers who were “having fun”, or lost relatives who were bikers. Maybe you could try to explain your thoughts on the matter to them?

From very dead motorcyclists to very injured ones, Bike vs Object was never a good job to be called to. As soon as you read that on the ambulance screen you know it won’t be a good outcome. Then a few days later we’d see the tributes – “They lived for their family” or “they died happy, doing something they loved”. There is no such thing as “dying happy”! Dying is always bad, dying as the result of a crash is often very painful and not something enjoyable. As for “living for their families” – it is selfish because children lose parents, partners lose loved ones. It’s also life changing for other innocent parties who may be caught up in it. I could describe jobs I was called to involving motorbikes, but I doubt it would change views. Surely, if a rider expects to be treated as a road user, they should then act like one? It’s not complicated.

Boy/girl racers! – I was called to my first RTC involving a racer early in my career. Cars are very safe these days, but not when modified and driven by idiots who think they can drive them well. My first experience of this was a young driver in a well known Japanese rally-style car. They had come out of a side street at great speed, straight into the side of an older driver’s car who happened to be directly in their path. On arrival, another crew had seen to the extraction of the older driver, who had sustained a number of broken bones. We attended the younger driver, who had foolishly got back into their car to wait for us. They seemed in great spirits, laughing and joking, not caring about the injuries they had inflicted on the innocent older person. Remaining professional, with great difficulty, I asked the driver if they had any pain in their back or neck. To this day, I still maintain that, at that point, they saw an opportunity to become a “victim”. “Yes” they said, suddenly appearing concerned for their own welfare. Immediately we began to treat them as protocol dictates for a spinal injury. I asked one of the police officers nearby to get into the back of the car and hold the driver’s head still so as to maintain their spinal alignment. Then I approached the fire chief and asked him to remove the roof of the car to allow us to extract the driver safely. At this point the driver became very agitated. Suddenly their pain disappeared, but they had claimed they was in pain in front of a number of uniformed personnel, we had a protocol to follow, and the police officer’s hold on their head tightened slightly as they protested. Resigned to their folly, the driver was extracted from their roofless car, immobilised so their spinal column was safe from further damage, and transported to hospital. Rightly or wrongly, I felt no guilt knowing his car was fit only for the scrapheap as soon as the roof was removed.

While it is not the job of an ambulance crew to judge a patient in any way, nor would they do so publicly, there were many jobs like the one above where we had to keep our thoughts to ourselves and remain professional. My job was to maintain life and protect the welfare of my patients, no matter what happened before my arrival on scene. The police however had a bit more interest in the events beforehand, and they could take action or give an opinion based on that.

The following happened on a major dual carriageway: A young driver had lost control of their vehicle, having taken a corner far too fast. We arrived to find a very dented car on the central reservation, the young driver standing next to their pride and joy with their head in their hands. My partner went to attend to the driver while I spotted a local traffic police officer we knew and went to find out what had happened. When I asked the officer if the driver had been travelling fast, they took me to the rear of the vehicle and pointed at the exhaust outlet pipe. It was huge! “any more questions?” he said, one eyebrow raised. I shook my head and walked back to the ambulance.

All of the above may sound like a bad prejudice against bikers and racers but, as I mentioned earlier in this post, there are the sensible ones. It is fun to have a fast bike or car, but public roads (there’s a clue in there – public) are not the place to have that fun. There are track days at many race tracks around the country where adrenaline rushes can be had. I’ve seen too much death and destruction, lives and relatives left behind lives’ destroyed by what can only be described as foolish acts of selfishness. I drove fast in my youth, but I was lucky enough to learn from other peoples’ mistakes.

The day after I completed my vehicle extrication training I received a phone call. A good friend had studied hard, worked his way up within his job had finally bought himself his dream car. That day he died in it, because he thought he could cope with driving it fast on a country road. I was devastated, and my instructors wanted to send me home, but I knew I had to continue so I could maybe save someone like him one day. So yes, I get angry when I see stupid driving. Yes, for me, every RTC was personal.

If you disagree with anything I’ve said above, please get in touch. I’d love to hear your views.

“You can’t park here mate!”

Firstly, when did I choose to become “mates” with an arrogant, selfish person? At that point, the anger you feel is quite difficult to control. You want to retaliate strongly, but you have to prevent the situation from escalating unnecessarily and try to resolve it in the best way for everyone.

The last time I heard it, we had been called to a cardiac arrest. The patient’s heart had stopped and time was important. I didn’t look for a parking space, I stopped outside the patient’s house, pulled on the handbrake and we made haste inside to deal with the poor soul. We got them onto the trolley (stretcher) and took them out to the Ambulance to attempt to stabilise them before transporting them to hospital, swiftly.

That was when it happened – there was a loud banging on the back door. Already firing on adrenaline, we both looked at each other with angry eyes. My colleague was doing chest compressions and I was ventilating the patient – CPR. I went to the back door and opened it slightly. “You can’t park here mate!” he said angrily. I wanted to respond in kind, but I was a professional in uniform. Instead I said “I’m sorry sir, we’re a bit busy trying to save a life at the moment. We’ll be moving soon.”. “you’ll be moving now!” he proclaimed, as I moved around to prevent him from peering morbidly into the ambulance. I very much wanted to speak my mind, but I had a very sick patient to deal with. He ranted a bit more, then said “I’m going to call the police!”. Trying to contain my ever increasing anger as my adrenaline level rose further, I gritted my teeth and said “Sir, let me do it for you. I can have them here much quicker.”. I then put an urgent call into our control centre requesting immediate police assistance.

Suddenly his attitude changed. “They don’t need to hurry. I’m sure you’ll be finished soon”. The patient in the Ambulance was barely alive, and he had tried to tell me, where I parked my emergency vehicle was more important, I wanted them there quickly! I told him to stay where he was and that the police would be here shortly to deal with his complaint.

The police did arrive shortly, and I briefed them on the situation as I rushed round the ambulance to get in the front and drive the patient to hospital. Strangely, the gentleman had not waited around for them to arrive, but he was quickly spotted peering out of one of the house windows in the near vacinity.

Our patient lost their fight and passed away shortly after we handed them over to the staff at A&E. I later found out that the police had stern words with the grumpy man after we left. Nothing would have changed the outcome for the patient, but the anger seemed to add to the sense of failure we felt. There was no need for that job to go horribly. We had done our best for the patient, but it was sadder that their final moments should be made worse by that selfish, grumpy guy.

The anger of that moment is back as I write. Finding a parking space takes time. The Oxford dictionary describes an emergency as ‘A serious, unexpected, and often dangerous situation requiring immediate action.‘. Ie. No time to box park!

Next time you see an ambulance blocking the street, consider why it might be there. Weigh up your inconvenience with that of the sick person they are attending. Be patient, and let the crew do their job without interference or threats. One day it might be one of your relatives, or even you, they are there for!

Shortly after I first posted this I read a story in the news about someone who had left a note on an ambulance windscreen, with some money, telling the crew they were blocking the note writer’s driveway but it was ok. The money was for a well deserved coffee. That is how to treat an ambulance crew! There are a lot of kind people out there 🙂