Thursday, 15 January 2009

Taxi or truck?

While I was waiting for my friends outside a restaurant this evening, I was doing a bit of 'people watching'. I like imagining where people are going and where they're from. It makes waiting around a bit more interesting, if nothing else!

Anyway, I couldn't help but notice a dishevelled looking man aged about 75 stumbling between the bollards in the pedestrian zone. I knew a fall was going to be inevitable, but I didn't want to intervene unnecessarily, so I kept a close eye on him, poised to react if I needed to. He did fall, and as soon as he did I ran over to help. I see it as my duty as a member of the ambulance service to assist if someone is injured, but I was glad that another member of the public came over too. Together we made sure he wasn't badly injured, and we helped him into a chair provided by the restaurant owners. I asked him if he wanted an ambulance and he said no, just a taxi home. He told me he had the money to pay, and told me where he lived, so I booked a cab for him. He didn't completely make sense, because his speech was slurred. I could smell alcohol on his breath, so I put it down to that.

It wasn't until later in the evening that I started having doubts - should I have called an ambulance? After all, the man had taken a tumble, and didn't seem completely compos mentis. There was the slurred speech, of course, so he could have just been drunk - I'm not intending to stereotype him, but he gave me that impression. When I called the cab, it took about 15 minutes to arrive and the whole time the poor guy was mumbling that he wanted to get back home. So he obviously wanted to go home, but I'm not sure if I should maybe have called the cavalry to check him out and make sure he was definitely OK. After all, who can really say why he was stumbling? It could have been alcohol, but it could have been more sinister.

Someone put my mind at rest! Did I do right to call him a taxi, or would 999 have been more appropriate? All opinions welcome.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Professional distance

It's a well known fact that emergency services personnell tend to maintain a professional distance from their patients, in order to carry out their job without becoming emotionally involved. Certainly, if I were to allow myself to think too deeply about some of the calls I deal with, I would certainly not be able to cope.

However, I never thought I would keep this barrier up when I was off-duty. I'm not saying I'm heartless and don't allow myself to care, but I received some shocking news about one of my closest friends, Jack, yesterday, and I didn't react. My other friends were devastated, crying and talking about it constantly. I, on the other hand, dealt with the news calmly and got on with my evening. I'm not sure if it's because I haven't physically seen Jack to confirm that yes, he is seriously ill, or just that I can't let my guard down. But either way, I don't seem to be able to allow myself to cry. Instead of talking about my friend it's almost like I'm referring to a patient. I'm not seeing Jack, I'm seeing his illness and the symptoms.

In a way, it's good that I know I have developed this ability to distance myself from distressing situations. But in another, more personal way, I seem to have lost the ability to care about my loved ones.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, dear readers!!!!!! That is if there's anybody left still reading this blog...I'm hoping to be back at work next month, so keep stopping by.

I hope you and your loved ones all have a fantastic Christmas. Remember not to get TOO drunk, because nobody wants to call an ambulance on Christmas Day! :P

Go on - eat, drink and be merry!


Thursday, 11 December 2008

999 transcripts

A few weeks ago, the Guardian Weekend magazine had a very interesting piece about 999 calls. It features several transcripts of calls to the ambulance service, and shows readers what it's really like when you pick up the phone and request an ambulance.

Personally, I'm fed up with the way that TV programmes such as Eastenders and even Casualty portray the initial contact. OK, I understand that having a five minute scene where the person reels off information such as the patient's address and level of consciousness may not make enthralling viewing, but the number of times I've seen Peggy Mitchell bark "Yeah, I need an ambulance now! My son's been assaulted!" and then slam the phone down is infuriating!

Friends of mine outside the emergency services have commented that the feature is a fascinating insight into how things work 'behind the scenes', and how important it is for callers to remain calm in what are obviously very distressing situations.

Here's a link in case you haven't read it yet.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

I'm still here!!

Sorry for the distinct lack of posting over the last 3 months! I am still here, but things are very busy in the world of Petrolhead right now. I'll update you when I can, but don't give up on me, I'm still here!

Monday, 26 May 2008

Out of Area

Occasionally, we get calls for other parts of the UK. Usually this happens if somebody – from Cardiff for example – phones a relative in Sussex, and they suddenly collapse. The person in Sussex will phone 999, and we process the call as usual. When the call is finished, we’ll look up the ambulance service for that county and pass it to them to deal with. Yesterday, I took a call for a patient in High Wycombe, a 73 year old female who had collapsed in her utility room. Her son, who had special needs, panicked and called his uncle who lives in Brighton. He phoned 999 himself, and automatically got through to the Sussex control room. I took the call as usual, but then there was some confusion over which service actually covered High Wycombe! It’s East Midlands Ambulance Service, if you’re interested. Altogether that call took 11 minutes from the initial beep in my ear to completing passing the call to EMAS. Not bad!

Sometimes, we have to use our powers of persuasion with patients. I got a call from a very sheepish 57 year old man who was stuck on the toilet. He was disabled, and couldn’t transfer himself from the toilet to his wheelchair. He was also pretty certain that something was going on ‘down there’ so that was causing him a bit of pain. He wasn’t sure he needed an ambulance, and asked me if I thought he did. “How will you get off if we don’t come out to you?” I asked. He couldn’t think of an answer, so agreed to let me send a crew to him.
“I feel such a fool!” he told me. “Stuck on the toilet at my age! Will the crew mind? It seems such a stupid reason to have an ambulance.”
“That’s what we’re here for, to help people. People call ambulances for far more trivial reasons.”
I felt pleased with the way I handled this call. I made this man feel slightly better about calling us out, and even though we could have refused to send one because he wasn’t in a life threatening situation, how else would he have got off the toilet? If he’d called the out of hours GP, I’m sure they’d have referred him straight to us anyway!

Full Moon

I always thought it was a myth when my colleagues told me that the strangest calls seem to happen when there’s a full moon in the sky. I was on a 12-hour night shift recently, and it was all going OK until about 1.30am when Dave – a regular caller – phoned us, saying he’d passed out 3 times in as many hours. I went through my questions as usual, but he kept saying he couldn’t understand me, like I was speaking a foreign language. As I was trying to ask the rest of my questions, he told me the doorbell was ringing (at that time in the morning??) and insisted on answering it. It was clear he wasn’t going to give up, so I let him go and answer it. He came back to the phone a few seconds later, saying the taxi driver was there. “So you’re getting a taxi to the hospital?” I asked. “Shall I cancel the ambulance?”
“No,” Dave sounded exasperated, “The taxi is here so I can get food! You speak to him, I haven’t got time for your stupid questions!” so he passed me to a very confused sounding Italian man, who got very impatient when I asked to be put back on to Dave and slammed the phone down. Agitated, I phoned back and the taxi driver picked up. “Does Dave still need an ambulance? Is he going to make his own way?”
“You’re making me late for work, go away and leave us alone!” was the reply I got. Dave grabbed the phone from the taxi driver, so I asked him. “No,” came the grumpy reply “I just want some food, so go away!” We got a further 4 calls from Dave that night – the saga only ended when I got one of his calls at 4.45am and passed it straight to my DDM (duty dispatch manager) who managed to persuade him that maybe it would be a good idea to go to bed.

At 2.30am I got a call from a woman who said he partner was hitting himself over the head with a deodorant can. She sounded exasperated, and explained that he had a history of mental health problems for the past 3 weeks. No matter how many times she asked him, he simply refused to give her the deodorant can. I wonder what happened to make him go crazy like that?

My final call of the night came via NHS Direct, for a female with a headache and confusion. The twist was, she was Arabic and neither she nor her husband – the caller – spoke English. NHS Direct had got a translator from Language Line, so we knew what we were dealing with but this made the call much longer and drawn out than usual. I had to ask my question which was translated, then the answer was also translated, a bit like you see on TV sometimes. It was very interesting though, and fitting that it should be the first Language Line call I get, exactly six months into the job!

Sunday, 18 May 2008

A Mother's Instinct

Not being a mother, I can't say I really understand, but it seems to me that a mother's instinct is an incredible asset. My mum can almost always tell when I'm lying!!
When it comes to life-threatening emergencies, this instinct is amazing. I answered a call for a one year old little boy, who had spots and was vomiting. The call came from the child's mother, who had phoned NHS Direct earlier that evening. They put the boy's symptoms down to chickenpox and recommended the usual plenty of rest and calamine lotion to soothe the itching. But the mother's instincts told her this was not just a case of chickenpox. She was convinced it was something worse, as the baby was now quite floppy and unresponsive. When the crew got to the house, they were equally as concerned for the baby and rushed him into hospital on blue lights and sirens. I later found out that he had been diagnosed with meningitis. If she hadn't phoned 999, his condition would have deteriorated rapidly and he could have died.
Sometimes, the instincts of a parent - more often than not it's the mother, for some reason - can be rather annoying for the child (offspring, I should say, I'm not a child!) but on other occasions, such as this, it can save lives.