Four months in a class-room. Four long, studious months. I've never studied for four months without a holiday somewhere in between. In fact, thinking about it, I've never really studied properly for four months ever. I actually wanted to be there. Wanted to study. Wanted to pass the exams. Wanted to finally get out on the ambulance and start treating patients. Wanted to take my 1% inspiration, put in the effort that's 99% perspiration, to become 100% ambulance-man.
The day arrives. I need to be up early, to be out the house by 6 in the morning. There's no chance of me over-sleeping. I can't sleep at all. I can't remember the last time I was this nervous. Actually, thinking about it, I think scared is nearer the mark. This is the day where I finally get to put everything into action. No more rubber dummies, no more resusci-annie dolls. This is the real thing. First day on an ambulance. For real. Blue lights and sirens. Live patients. Patients' lives.
I arrive, along with Sophie, my partner-in-crime for the next few weeks, at a station where I have never been. I meet people I have never seen, including Pete, who's going to be baby-sitting us during our first foray into the world of emergency medicine. Pete takes us round the station, shows us the important bits like toilets and drink machines, coffee and tea, the office, and eventually, the ambulance.
We talk about our training, how it's just like driving lessons. The real learning starts after you've passed. We talk about what we did before, what we want to be doing in future, why we chose the ambulance service. Then we talk reality. We discuss how things are changing, people are changing, expectations are changing. We hear how the the ambulance service doesn't only go out to people who are severely injured or seriously ill, but also to very minor ailments, lonely people, selfish people. And lots and lots of drunk people. At the sound of that, I almost walk out on the spot. I'd done my homework, I knew it wasn't all blood and guts and all things nasty, but I hate the thought of having to deal with drunks. I guess I'd have to learn to live with it.
We go through the ambulance, making sure all the kit's there, that everything works, the lights flash, the sirens wail. Eventually we tell control that we're ready to go. There are a number of crews on station, but as we're trainees, we get to take the first call that comes in. Apparently, it's unusually quiet, and the phone is silent for some time. My nerves are frayed, and I sit waiting for the call to come in.
The talk turns back to previous lives and jobs, and I tell Pete and Sophie (although she's probably heard it all before) that as a stop-gap before I started my training, I worked as a security guard. I hate the word hate, but I hated it. I stood for hours on end, mainly at schools, hoping that nothing happened. Which thankfully it didn't. I still hated it. I hated the boss too. He'd regularly "forget" to pay the staff or claim there was some bank problem for over a week or two every month, and then tried to underpay as well. I couldn't wait to get out of there. The job filled a purpose, and it was a means to an end, so I survived it. I didn't get a good-luck card on my last day, I didn't leave a thank you card when I left, and I didn't tell anyone where I was going.
Finally, in a heart-stopping moment, the printer whirrs and the phone rings. The first call has come in. I look at the piece of paper with fear and trepidation to see that it's a car crash, or RTC. Two patients, middle-aged female and 20-something male. As if to haunt me, my inspiration for joining in the first place, my recurrent nightmare, has returned as my first ever call. This was something Sophie didn't know about me, and I wasn't about to reveal it either. I tell them that I know loads of 20-something year old males around the area where the RTC is, and we leave it at that. Pete's decided that as it's the first day, he'll do all the blue-light driving to the calls, and one of us can drive to hospital if necessary.
We arrive at the scene to find that there's already one ambulance there, and no patients actually at the roadside, so presume that both the patients must be in there. We knock on the door and open the back of the ambulance to find the crew dealing with the middle-aged lady. The 20-something male is sitting with his back to the door, so we can't quite see his face, but he's clearly not too badly injured.
Pete takes a handover from the first crew about what's happened, and it's agreed that we'll deal with Craig, the 20-something male. My ears prick up at the sound of the name, and eventually he turns round. I'm not sure who's more shocked. Craig, as he finds that he has to look me square in the eye, and realises that I'm there to treat him, or me at the fact that Craig's now a patient and I have to be courteous and professional.
I'm starting to realise more and more how much the world goes round in circles. How every action has an equal and opposite reaction. And how revenge is sometimes a dish best served cold. Or not served at all. Just threatened.
Craig was my boss in my previous job.
Now, he needed my help, and was ashamed to have to ask for it. That in itself was enough for me. He received a very quick lesson in karma, and I received a very quick lesson in how to immobilise a live patient after an accident. It wasn't a life-threatening call. It wasn't blood and guts. It wasn't all the excitement that this job could be. But it was my first job.
I was told that you never forget your first job. I never expected it to be so true, on so many levels.