As a teenager I witnessed a kid get hit by a car. There were a few bystanders and we just stood there, everyone wanting to help but no-one really sure what to do. The kid was ok, the ambulance arrived and took him to hospital. At that moment I knew what I wanted to do with my life…I want to be a paramedic, I don’t ever want to stand by and watch and not be able to help. When I was 20, I got a job with an ambulance trust working for the patient transport service, this was it…first step on the ladder for my dream career. A few months later, on my 21st birthday, I started my training as an ambulance technician. 10 weeks later I was let loose on an ambulance, ready to attend life threatening emergencies, save lives and make a difference. Or so I thought.
My first ever shift as a tech was an odd day. They had warned us at training school that it’s not all guts and glory, but in the main part we would be tending to ill and injured people who had rung an emergency service, they’d need our help and we’d save them. I remember my first job, that feeling of nerves and trepidation as we rushed to the property lights and sirens going. I jumped out the cab and stuck close to my paramedic. It suddenly dawned on me, I had no idea how to help this woman. She was having a stroke, I’d learnt that in training…but now what? I just stood there, out of my depth, awaiting instruction. As time went by, I got the hang of things. I soon had my ‘first’ of a few jobs; first RTC, first cardiac arrest, first fatal, first ‘decent’ trauma job. However, amongst the gucci jobs though was everything else, the social work, the drunks, the violence, the depression, the depravity, and it dawned on me as I progressed through my career; I’m a paramedic, but nobody taught me how…
I’m a paramedic, but nobody taught me how to sit an 86 year old gentleman down and tell him his wife of 65 years has died in her sleep. Nobody taught me how to watch as the desire for life leaves his eyes the moment I break the earth shattering news that would change his life forever.
Nobody taught me how to accept a torrent of abuse from a complete stranger, just because they have been drinking all day and want a lift home.
Nobody taught me how to talk to someone so depressed that they have just slit their own throat, panicked and rung for help. Nobody taught me how to respond when they turned to me and said “I can’t even get suicide right”.
Nobody taught me how to to say the words “I’m sorry, there’s nothing else we can do, your daughter is dead”. Nobody taught me how to listen to the harrowing, shattering scream of a parent whose child has just died.
Nobody taught me how to talk a complete stranger down off a bridge, how to find a reason for them to live, how to assure them that they would get the help that they needed and everything would be ok.
Nobody taught me how to bite my tongue when I went 2 hours over my finish time for someone who’d been ‘generally unwell’ for 24 hours and their GP had told them to ring 999.
Nobody taught me how to accept that I would miss out on things other people take for granted; birthdays, christmas day, meals at normal times of the day, sleep.
Nobody taught me how to hold hands with a dying person as they take their last breath, how to hold back the tears because it’s not my grief.
Nobody taught be how to keep a straight face whilst a young man explains exactly what happened to the end of his hoover.
Nobody taught me how to act when a patient pulls a knife on me.
Nobody taught me how to work on a friend who’s choked and gone in to a cardiac arrest whilst we were having lunch.
Being a paramedic is so much more than swooping in and saving lives; it’s about dealing with the most unique, challenging experiences and just going home at the end of the shift, being asked ‘how was your day’ and replying ‘fine thanks’. Being a paramedic is about delivering a baby, diagnosing a death, making a patient a cup of tea, and it just being normalised. It’s about constantly giving a bit of yourself to every patient, because although it’s our 13th patient of the day and we can’t remember their name it’s their first ambulance, their loved one, their experience. It’s about walking out the door at 5am to go to a twenty year old with abdo pain when its minus 5 and you haven’t slept for 22 hours. Most of all though, it’s about that feeling; yeah 99% of it is hard, and wasteful and abusive of the great NHS, but that 1%, that’s why I do this.
It’s about the bits that nobody taught me how…
It’s about handing a new born baby to a father who just stands and stares at their new life with tears of joy.
It’s about providing pain relief and reassurance to a 90 year old lady who’s fallen and hurt her hip, and despite all the pain she turns and says “Thank you, how are you?”.
It’s about a hug that you give someone on christmas day because they haven’t spoken to anyone for days, they have no relatives or companions but you’ve brightened up their day.
It’s about climbing in the car next to someone and saying ‘Don’t worry, you’re going to be fine, we’ll have you out of here in just a moment’
It’s about hearing the dreaded words “my baby, she’s not breathing, please help” and then working on the baby until she cries out happily.
It’s about everything that we do that the media don’t publicise, it’s about knowing fact that we couldn’t attend to the dying man because we were dealing with a drunk, or we were having a break because we were 9 hours into a shift and on protected break.