For a few years now I have brushed off the suggestions from colleagues to work at the Notting Hill Carnival and have until this year kept well away. There have been a few reasons for this, but the main one was that, rightly or wrongly, I worried about the risk of civil disturbance in the huge crowd. I finally somewhat reluctantly agreed, and have to admit I was more than a little anxious about what I may have let myself in for. However, I needn’t have worried because I had a brilliant time and absolutely loved it!
We all had to get to a central London meeting point where approximately 120 ambulance staff rendezvoused on both Sunday and Monday mornings for a briefing session. After a late breakfast/early lunch we set off for our respective treatment centres to meet up with our St John’s Ambulance colleagues. That was where the fun began. Each ECP needed to carry an awful lot of equipment to their centre – luckily each of us commandeered colleagues who were working as part of the Forward Incident Teams (FIT) to lighten the load by kindly carrying some of our gear as well as their own bags that they were already laden down with (memories of New Years Eve and impressions of Buckaroo came flooding back to me!)
I was posted just off Ladbroke Grove right in the thick of it and the memory that will stay with me the most was the noise! If you have ever stood at the front of the stage at a concert at the O2 or Wembley you will know what mean. My whole body was vibrating. Trying to ask a patient what is wrong with that permanently going on around you, with the required ear-plugs in situ, means you must rely very heavily on gestures and sign language! Even trying to take a blood pressure or listening to someone chest is difficult.
Sunday is family day at the carnival and the floats are predominantly formed of children’s groups and families proudly showing off their amazingly beautiful brightly coloured costumes. It tends to be a quieter day anyway and as the weather was overcast it probably meant some people stayed away this year.
Monday is the final and busiest day; it finishes later and has in the past attracted rather more negative press. This year was a hot and sunny day and we were barely able to stop for breath (or anything else for that matter!) at our treatment centre. We had an interesting and varied patient mix including allergic reactions, limb injuries, alcohol intoxication, epileptic fits, cardiac problems and lacerations.
It was busy, hot work in a challenging environment, but the staff I worked with from the LAS, St John’s Ambulance, and police, as well as visitors and participants in the parade, helped to make it a really exciting and unique event. If they want me back I will definitely do it again next year. There, I’ve said it now!