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Has Anyone Seen My Elephant?

Image by fazen on Flickr

It can be a bit hit and miss when you take an observer out for a shift on the ambulance. No self respecting observer arranges an observation shift with the London Ambulance Service hoping for a quite night on station drinking tea and watching Strictly Come X Factor on Ice; and of course we want get a chance to drive fast, show off our skills a bit and generally give them a night to remember.

Clearly there is something of the Munchausen by Proxy personality in the vast majority of us ambulance personnel. On one hand, while not wishing for anyone to befall a dreadful accident, on the other hand we kind of hope that if they do, that it will be our ambulance that gets sent to them – particularly if we have an observer to show off in front of.

Our definition of a good job’ of course, is probably your idea of a nightmare, one that will undoubtedly become the blood curdling subject of your dinner party conversations for years to come – long after we have forgotten how much we enjoyed bravely wading knee-deep in your body parts while heroically rescuing you from whatever horror you had succumbed (you can be certain that’s how we will retell the story anyway).

Most shifts we are damn busy and we barely pause for breath for the whole 12 hours. We tend to just lurch from one call to the next. Often we are then rewarded for our considerable efforts with a ‘late job’ to ensure we get home absolutely knackered and even later than anticipated.

In fact the chances of getting off on-time are inversely proportionate to how important it is to be heading away from work as the second hand moves into overtime. For example if, as has happened to  me in the past, your child has their first lead role in the school play you know with absolute certainty that you can kiss goodbye to any hopes of seeing their debut; some selfish bugger with an acute case of ‘No Discernible Symptom Syndrome’ (NDSS) will chose precisely those closing moments of your shift to call 999 for a check-up and you can bet your life that your ambulance will be the only available one within a 20 miles radius. You will arrive at the performance, exhausted just as the fat lady sings and your child starts sobbing because you missed her bit.

The moment one puts an observer into the equation things turn on its head. Rather than being run ragged, we instead run the risk of developing pressure sores from complete immobility, only offset by getting up occasionally to source the next round of tea. The deflated observer hears our pitiful plea that ‘it’s not normally like this – honestly – we’re usually really, really busy’ but it sounds hollow and you know they don’t believe you.

I worked a shift on an ambulance recently with an observer Alfonso who had travelled all the way from Italy for the shift – no pressure there then! Thankfully, fate was kind to us, if not to our poor patients. We had a full-on night. As well as the predictable run of unwell folk, including a couple of kids and a couple of ‘blue calls’, we went to a nursing home for the elderly victim of a cardiac arrest. This happened in a room that was not much bigger in dimensions than the bed it contained and it must have appeared like a surreal, uniformed version of Twister (TM) as we clambered and climbed over each other to undertake various aspects of the resuscitation – and why are those places always so uncomfortably hot?

Of course no observational shift would be complete without the obligatory comedy moment. We got a call to a lady who had had rather too much alcohol to drink and had vomited – prompting a a party goer to reach for the phone and call 999.

As soon as we arrived at the private house party where our patient had taken unwell, it was clear that things were going to get interesting. Firstly, our patient had got drunk on mead – who drinks mead these days? I noticed the flower garland in one lady’s hair ….and then her black cape. One man in the group was dressed like a glamorous undertaker, complete with heavy black eyeliner, top hat and tails. It transpired that this was a party for witches and our patient was a real live witch no less! During our assessment of her, she regaled us with a fascinating story; apparently her husband’s nickname for her was ‘Old Trunkard’

‘Do you mean drunkard?’ I asked in a non judgemental sort of way.

‘No, no it’s Trunkard’ She then went on to explain in detail how she earned the moniker after she fell on to an ornamental elephant and the trunk of the ornament ‘accidentally’ entered her body, necessitating a hospital admission to have the offending item removed from the orifice. She had us in hysterics and thanks to the considerate inclusion of many commonly recognised international hand gestures, no detail was lost in translation for Alfonso.

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