Monday, 30 May 2011


Just as I'd started to get over the trauma of the call itself, a reminder arrived through the internal mail. 

The Coroner was requesting a report. 

As I sat for the next two hours typing out everything as I remembered it, or as a copy of my paperwork reminded me, I wondered how much I would have changed given the chance to press a delete button and rewrite the script just as I was doing to ensure the accuracy of my report. 

Thinking back to the call, I wouldn't have changed a thing. The team worked well, the skills were flawless, the professionalism without blemish. 

But as I typed out the last line of the conclusion, I realised that there was one thing that needed to be crossed out and rewritten, one thing, that if given the chance I'd never have sent in to the editors for printing. 

The final page of the script. 

Sometimes we don't write the scripts. Sometimes we're merely characters within it. 

Thursday, 26 May 2011


The room was on the third floor, not in an apartment block - but a private home. The driveway was the length of many suburban streets, and the private estate on which the house sits could pass for a royal residence. The country park feel only added to its charm, but at the same time left the scene feeling cold.

"He's just in here. I won't come in with you, because he screams each time I step into the room."

The room is also massive. Floor to ceiling mirrored wardrobe doors only added to the size making it seem twice as big. An en-suite bathroom cleverly hidden in the far corner. In there, huddled in a corner with his knees under his chin, sat the terrified figure of an eight year old boy.

"He's been fine up until the last few days, maybe a couple of weeks I guess. Can't work out what's bothering him. He's slowly stopped talking, hardly eats, hardly sleeps, and has started wetting his bed at night. He won't let me help him get dressed, won't let me check his school bag, hates going to school which he used to love doing and he doesn't want me to step into his room! Now he won't even come out of the bathroom!"

"Alright. I'll try to talk to him. What's his name?"

"Andy. Andrew really, that's what we christened him, but nobody calls him that."

I step into the bathroom and sit down on the floor by the door. Andy tries to scrunch himself up into an even smaller ball, pressing his legs to his chest and shutting his eyes as tightly as he could. I notice a small bruise on his forehead, an almost ever-present mark on any young boy's head.

"Hi Andy. My name's Ben. Your mum tells me your not feeling too good, can you tell me what's wrong?"

Without a sound, he turns himself towards the wall, facing away from me. I kept my distance and pondered my next step. Children are not small adults, they're child-sized, fully-grown children. You can't just talk down to them - you need to look them in the eye and speak at their level. Sitting cross-legged on the floor of the bathroom was starting to get uncomfortable. 

"Andy, is something hurting you?" 

Without looking up he shook his head from side to side. 

"Do you feel sick?"

Same response again. I asked Andy's mother if he had a favourite toy, and without a word she left and returned a moment later with a teddy-bear. 

"Andy, would you prefer to show me what's wrong on the teddy?" 

A shrug of the shoulders was the closest Andy came to cooperating. I handed him the bear and asked him to show me what had happened, but he sat just as still as before. 

"Shall I ask teddy instead?" It felt wrong to be treating an eight-year-old as though he was still a toddler, but it seemed to work. Andy nodded his approval and I addressed teddy instead as he sat hugged tight by his owner. 

"Teddy, does your tummy hurt? Have you bumped your head? Has somebody said something not nice to you?" 

All the questions were met with a tough silence and a shake of the head. 

"Why don't you show me what's happened then? I'll stop guessing, and you can just tell me. Does that sound OK to you?" 

After a few moments, Andy suddenly stood up from under the sink, turned on the tap and stuck teddy's head under the stream of cold water. He then turned the tap off, and started hitting the teddy's head on the sink.

Suddenly, having taken out all his anger, the teddy's arm fell off. 

Andy sank to the floor, curled himself back up in a ball and sobbed uncontrollably. I turned round to see his mother in the same state, tears streaming silently down her cheeks, all the answers she'd been seeking suddenly hitting her like a juggernaut.

"Andy, I think you and teddy need to speak to someone like a doctor. Mum can come too. I can put a bandage on teddy's arm for now if you like. Will that be alright with you?

Andy looked at teddy who turned his head to look back. They both nodded their approval. 

Friday, 20 May 2011

English for Americans

It's multiculturalism at its best. London's a melting pot of people, of languages, of cultures. 

My Hindi is coming along nicely, I understand a few Polish sentences, and I still remember some Japanese I learnt in school. 

Arabic is on the tip of my tongue, Spanish is a rare necessity, and I can count to ten in a variety of others.

Thanks to a very good friend I even understand and speak a slice of Dutch. 



French still eludes me, but I can always ask any passing school kid. 

However, there's one language that I still cannot understand. There seem to be no online translators for it either. Which language? 


I gather that the Americans feel the same about English. 

So, in the spirit of co-operation, and with many thanks to Jumblerant (a compilation blog with regular posts of genius), I present the English for Americans poster. 

Clear as mud, right? Now if only we could get the ambulance service equivalent... 

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Being Human

We wheeled her husband to the ambulance, even though he wasn't all that ill, but he definitely needed to be in hospital. We made sure he had everything he needed, and even some things that he probably didn't, but would make him feel more at ease. A dressing gown, a pair of slippers, his favourite walking stick and his green-framed reading glasses.

"Can I get you all a drink?" asked his wife.

"No thanks. We'll get a coffee at the hospital."

"Are you sure? It's really no trouble. You've been so kind!"

"Sure. You don't need to trouble yourself."

She looked almost disappointed at our refusal, so we softened the blow by explaining that the quicker we get her husband up there, the more chance we had of beating the drunken rush of a Saturday night. At the age of eighty-several, they both looked after each other, rarely asking for help from anyone else. As we wheeled him into the ambulance, she wanted to check that he was comfortable.

"Can I just make sure that he's OK in there?"

"Of course you can."

The ambulance was about fifty metres away, and she gladly accepted a helping hand, holding my arm by the elbow to steady her gait. She looked in, checked on her husband, dismissed his assurances that everything was as it should be, and made sure to remind us to look after him. Still holding on to my arm, we walked back to the house, and made sure that she was safely behind the glass doors.

"Thank you. You've been most kind to us."

"A pleasure. We'll take good care of him, just make sure that you take good care of yourself."

"Don't worry about me. I'm fine."

I turned and headed back to the ambulance, and took a final look back to their front door. She was still standing there, keeping a close eye on proceedings. Just before I stepped out of sight, I waved.

She waved in return, made sure to lock her door, wiped a tear, and then blew us all a kiss.

Sometimes it's not about the latest kit, the newest ambulance or the fastest treatment.

Sometimes it's just about being a human being.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011


BBC News amongst others is reporting the new idea of on the spot fines for dangerous driving. I'm sure we've all seen examples such as the ones in the video, and worse. 

The plan for an £80 fine and three points on a licence is a start, but nothing more. 

It seems like nothing more than a political stunt when you consider that you can get fined £1,000 for throwing a piece of chewing gum in the street.

Surely, driving dangerously and threatening the safety of others should have a much higher penalty than than littering? 

What do you think? 

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Two Seats

A pair of expensive-looking trainers adorned the feet that stuck out from behind the bush. It was the only part of Jacek that was visible from the street. A concerned member of the public walking home late at night called the ambulance when he thought someone must be lying dead. It's a good thing he waited, because we'd never have spotted the shoes from the road.

"He's in there. Not sure if he's breathing or not, didn't want to get too close."

At five in the morning I had to ask what he was doing walking around the streets.

"I was on my way home from work. I do funny hours too."

"Oh really? What do you do?"

"I'm a nightclub bouncer."

I should have guessed really. Six feet four in every direction, close cropped hair, and a badly fitting suit - a perfect stereotype. The fact that someone who intimidates people for a living was a little nervous about approaching a pair of shoes, or at least whatever or whoever was attached to them, seemed a little ironic. I shook the patient's legs and one of the shoes fell off, making our bouncer friend visibly recoil.

A groggy mumble of "Go away!" from deep inside the bush only added to his discomfort.

"Do you still need me here, or am I alright to go home?"

"Yeah, sure. We're OK here. Thanks for your help."

He practically ran away from the scene.

After a few more attempts at waking up our patient, he finally relented and climbed out of the branches, hampered slightly by the thorns of a lone yellow rose. His face appeared last bearing a five o'clock shadow, but at the wrong five o'clock.

"Go away! I'm sleeping!"

There's gratitude for you.

"You can't sleep here. People will think you're dead and call ambulances!"

"Go away! I'm sleeping!"

"Where do you live?"

"I live here. Go away."

His clothes, other than the odd branch and a few green leaves, were clean, maybe even new. Not exactly the attire of a long-term homeless man. 

"Do you have any family in the area?" 

"No. They not live here." I guessed by his accent that he must have left his family in Eastern Europe somewhere. 

"And friends?" 

"My friend he is here." 

"Where's here?"

He turned round and looked back into the bushes.

"Here!" He points aggressively at the broken branches. "Don't you speak English good?" 

I looked at him, looked at my crewmate, shrugged my shoulders, and climbed half way into the bushes looking for a drunk friend. 

"Jacek, There's no-one in here!" 

"He is there! You not see him!"

I look again.

"There's definitely no-one here!" 

"He is there! Only I see him. You no see him!" 

I climb back out of the greenery, and look much the same as our patient with leaves and bits of broken branch all over me. 

"You mean to say I've gone looking for an invisible man?" 

My crewmate takes one look at me and tries to stifle a giggle. We help Jacek into the ambulance and as I'm about to take my seat, he suddenly shouts. 

"You not sit there! Friend - he is there!"

All of a sudden, the trolley seems a much better choice of seat. At the hospital, the waiting room is busy, and I take a minute to look around.

"What are you waiting for?" asks my crewmate.

"Just trying to find two seats together." 

Thursday, 5 May 2011


"It's my ninety-ninth birthday today!" Said the gentleman at the polling booth this morning. He walked unaided, no stick, no frame, and looked the picture of good health. 

One of the officials in the hall showed her amazement. "You look incredible for seventy, leave alone ninety-nine!" 

"I don't take medicines, and I've never seen a doctor or been to hospital, either." 

"What, never?" 

"Well, except once. That was after I fell out the sky after being shot down over France during the war. Broke my leg then, but was back flying six weeks later." 

The four ladies monitoring the voting all stood up and applauded, and everyone else in the hall joined in. One of them, having put down her newspaper and pencil, asked him what his secret to a long life was. 

"Very simple!" He said. "Just make sure you wake up every single morning for a very long time!"

Tuesday, 3 May 2011


This is an open letter to the driver of the car behind me earlier this morning: Stand by for a rant.

Dear Driver of the BMW X5 that was behind me in traffic,

I hope you read this - I gather I owe you an apology.

I'm sorry I stopped in front of you at an inconvenient moment.

I'm sorry I blocked your lane, (even though the other one was clear).

I'm sorry I stopped to help the elderly gent who fell right in front of us.

I'm sorry I took a few minutes to help him and make sure he was OK.

I'm sorry you may have been a little late to your coffee morning or other meaningless task.

But if I ever see you, your car, or the horn you beeped at me repeatedly,

You selfish, arrogant, ignorant, rude and insensitive person,

I may not be responsible for my actions.

Oh, and as for your apology, I shan't hold my breath.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Central Locking

Before the old ambulances could be completely replaced, we were treated to a smattering of new vehicles. Shiny yellow, with a trendy battenberg design all the way round, and as an extra confusion, diesel engines rather than the lawn-mower type petrol ones. Many a medic would be caught out in the first few months by feeding the engines with the wrong fuel.

They were hardly loved, those old LDV's. Nothing more than vans that had been given blue flashing lights for the roof and the front grill. Meat wagons. Loud, growling engines that would wake an entire street at three in the morning, but which you had no choice sometimes but to leave running, just to make sure that you still had some battery power by the time the patient had been recovered from the scene and placed on board. The three battery lights on the front would give the cab a disco feeling as they would all start off a tired red, change through slumbering amber and on their way to eager green, each individually, each moving backwards and forwards through the sequences depending on what the driver tried to get out of the engine.

At least the temperature control was reliable. The heating would completely fail in the winter, and work whether you liked it or not on the hottest days of summer. The air-conditioning never worked - there simply wasn't any. Anything that broke, fell apart or went missing was fixed with tape, a staple of any medic's armoury, along with all the medical stuff, and in fact probably higher on the priority list than most of the real kit.

In their final days, as they sensed the day of judgement and their own demise, they mounted a rebellion. They had a knack for trying to poison the occupants by filling the cab with noxious gases that would leave crews needing oxygen therapy themselves. Finally, not so long ago, and at least five years past their best, the last of the old fleet were mothballed.

In the early days of the new Mercedes ambulances there would be fights as to which crew would have the privilege of owning it for the shift. Those on the longest shift thought they were entitled to it, or those who were taking the longest transfer. The lure of the softer suspension, gentler ride, and most importantly the ability to control the internal temperature were cause for more than one disagreement. Yet, as the younger members of staff would argue over the newest, shiniest ambulances, the old guard would reminisce about the wondrous days of sliding doors, scoop-and-run, and were often mocked about their memories of the horse-and-cart. Finally, after several weeks of watching others enjoy the pleasures of the new arrival, it was my turn, and as I tried to climb in the passenger side door, I discovered one more novelty that the old trucks lacked - central locking.

Dean took the keys and control of the vehicle for the day, I never even got a look-in, not that I minded particularly. Even from the earliest days in this job I've preferred to attend rather than drive. Dean, however, was like a kid in a sweet shop who'd been given free run of the shelves, and loved every minute of finally driving a vehicle that responded as an emergency ambulance should. After a few routine calls, we were tasked to a call given as a man with a serious laceration to his arm caused by broken glass.

Arriving at the call a few minutes later, we took out the normal bags, as well as an extra bag of bandages. A trail of blood stretched across the pavement by where we'd parked, down the paved driveway and into the house that was about thirty metres away. Dean locked the ambulance. We started to walk towards the house and as we opened the porch door, a figure started to run towards us and stopped us in our tracks. As he came nearer, we saw that he wasn't alone, but carrying what looked to be a knife behind his back. We could just see the handle and a glint of metal, but that was enough. 

We stepped back out, backpedalling at speed, and Dean had the presence of mind to slide the porch door shut in a hurry. Still carrying all our kit, we ran back to the ambulance, and tried to climb back in, only to find that the doors, for the first time ever, were locked. Our "patient" had almost caught up with us, and now all I saw was the knife, which turned out to be a samurai sword being waved menacingly above his head and coming ever closer. I dropped the bags.

"Open the doors!" I screamed to Dean. 

"I can't! The bloody things won't open!"


Dean fumbled in his pocket for the unfamiliar key, whilst we both ran round and round the ambulance trying to avoid being sliced in half. Dean yelled to a neighbour to call the police, as this was before the days when we had personal radios, and our only means of communication were, like our safe haven, locked inside the ambulance. Eventually there was a standoff, where we stood at 180 degrees to each other - us on one side - and a sword wielding maniac on the other, but all three of us standing by doors. If we unlocked the ambulance, he could get inside just as quickly as we could. We worked out a plan where we could hold him away from an access for just long enough to unlock the doors, climb inside and re-lock the ambulance before he'd climb in. Another couple of circuits of the ambulance and we'd finally positioned ourselves as per the plan, and miraculously managed to pull it off. 

"Control, this is Z321, we need urgent police assistance!"

"Z321, received. Can you tell us what's happening?" 

As I tried to catch my breath, I told them in half sentences what had happened and they promised to arrange for the police to attend. Our sword-swinging friend had finally realised he couldn't get in, and instead took to trying to smash the windscreen, which thankfully held fast. Any interested bystanders had quickly seen sense and fled back into the safety of their own homes, and as he turned away to pick up one of our discarded pieces of kit, we had just enough time for Dean to beat a hasty retreat, far enough to be safe, but close enough to still see the scene. Ninety seconds later, the first of the police units arrived, closely followed by several more. 

We watched from afar as our patient was quickly bundled to the ground by half a dozen officers, the sword wrenched from his grip, and he was placed in the back of a police car. Not without a struggle, but it wasn't a very long one. Slowly, Dean turned the ambulance round and we headed back to the scene, safe in the knowledge that neither assailant nor weapon were now of any threat. Stopping alongside one of the officers, I wound down the window and briefly explained again what had happened. 

"We'll need a full statement," said the officer, "we can do it here or back at the nick." 

"Might as well do it here. At least we've got air-conditioning." I climbed through the door between the cab and the back of the ambulance as the officer tried to open the back door from the outside. 

"Can't open it!" he said, "Must be jammed!" 

"Oh. Yeah. That'll be the central locking..." 

Dean pressed the button that magically unlocked every door to the ambulance. 

"Must remember not to lock these in future, especially on samurai-sword calls. Too bloody dangerous!"