Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Double Dutch

For me, being bilingual is more an accident of birth and upbringing than an actual talent. My skill for languages at school was somewhere up there with biology lessons. There are hundreds upon hundreds of different languages and dialects around the world, and, it seems, that there are people all over the place who want to read these ramblings but can't quite cope with my English. 

A few days ago, someone linked to this blog from Google's translation service, and translated the whole thing into Hindi. This is what it looks like. Cool, huh? 

I decided to give it a go, so I did the same into the other language I speak. 

It made for interesting reading. Re-translating it back to English would look a little like this: 

Ss;lfkh5 hds afh nphuIPOHUfaog7  ap7tfih  Toaieh oajef va2oieh a. 

Double Dutch at best. 

Totally, and completely, well, rubbish - Google translate still leaves much to be desired. 

So, my apologies to those of you who want to read these ramblings in any language other than English. I may translate them properly one day, but until then, I'd steer clear of online translations... 

Monday, 26 September 2011

One of Them

It turns out, that after less than a decade in EMS, I have suddenly, practically overnight, become one of them.

When I started, I'd always turn to them, sometimes shy, sometimes fearful, mostly confused, and look for approval, for knowledge, for an explanation.

Over the years I've relied on them less and less, but never forgotten that the basic requirement needed for expertise, is experience itself, and those with more than me will always have something new to teach.

In the last few weeks and months, a few people have left the ambulance service. Some of the service elders have retired, some have moved to different services, some have left to do different things, both ambulance related and otherwise. All of this has made me one of them.

Ambulance work and the world of EMS is changing all the time. Many of the newer recruits are joining through universities, bringing a new atmosphere to the workplace, one where study is a vital component. Up until not very long ago, a paramedic would study for a few weeks, pass a couple of exams and walk away with their qualification. Then every so often, maybe every three years or so, they would be asked to show that they have retained their knowledge and skills in a short refresher course. Now, a paramedic course is merely the basis on which to build.

I have to admit, I've never been a particularly studious type. My school grades were average at best and I was especially useless at sciences. If my biology teacher ever found out what I did for a living, they'd probably need my services almost immediately. My university grades (in a course not in any way related to the medical world) never happened due to the fact that I couldn't keep quiet in a lecture and would often find myself being restrained by friends when a lecturer tried to teach something false as though it was gospel. I lasted less than one semester. Clearly I didn't want to study, I just wanted to learn. Life was going to change direction, despite the fact that I had no idea what that direction was.

The first time I ever passed exams with flying colours, was several years later, when I joined the ambulance service. Finally, I knew what I wanted to do, what I wanted to learn. This time, however, I knew that I had no choice. If I wanted to learn, I had to study. And so I did. But this job can't just be learnt in the class room. There always have been, and always will be, those calls where nothing you learn whilst sitting at a desk will be of any use. Only two things will help: common sense, and often, most importantly, experience. 

In nearly a decade, I've seen a lot, but I haven't seen everything. There are calls that I know of, that I've heard about colleagues who have attended, and that I thank my lucky stars to not have shared the same experience. Yet. Then, there are the calls I attend that my colleagues will think the same of me. However, as time goes on, there are fewer of the former and more of the latter. And with more and more of the new breed of paramedic, the studious type, I'm having to do more and more to keep up. 

At the same time, however, as well as just learning the theory, today's paramedics need to learn from the voice of experience. Suddenly, it seems, practically overnight, I have become one of them. One of the elders of the tribe, who, whilst maintaining they're still young(ish), portray this image of having a wealth of knowledge and information, understanding and experience, just from having been around the block a couple of times. 

I like the fact that people who are only at the start of the ladder of their careers feel they can ask me for my ideas and suggestions. 

I like the fact that sometimes I even have the answers, and sometimes, possibly rarely, I might even be right. 

I like the fact that when I don't have the answers, that I'm now bothered about it enough to go and do some homework. 

I like feeling like I'm suddenly, practically overnight, one of them.

It's just that it scares the crap out of me. 

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Counting Sheep

As I lay down my head to sleep,
I start to count a million sheep.
Them sheep, they laugh at me and say
no sleep tonight shall come your way.

I try to argue, beg and plead,
but those damn sheep, they pay no heed.
I press my case, express my sorrow,
Explain my schedule for tomorrow.

I start the count from the beginning,
losing track whilst they are winning.
They laugh and gambol 'cross the field,
Yet heavy eyelids will still not yield.

I change the tactic, skip the sheep,
get out of bed, downstairs I creep.
Try TV or sit and read,
Pray for sleep in time of need.

I fail, and fail, and fail some more,
Insomnia is such a bore.
But then, a glint of hope, of joy,
I've come up with a cunning ploy.

Those teasing, those tormenting sheep,
will now no longer stop my sleep.
They will no more just sit and stare
as I lie still and pull my hair.

My plan involves a plate of meat,
Those sheep's wool coats now not so neat.
My diner now adds to the tab,
as I tuck in to lamb kebab...

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Street Lights

The street lights off,

the normal orange glow replaced 

by the flashing blue lights of the police. 

They wave, the officers,

an unnecessary, well-meaning gesture 

to show me the way. 

They turn both their torches downwards

towards the floor,  

and look down, their heads bent 

as if in prayer.

She lies there, a mass of displaced, 

broken bones, 

a mangled, tangled mess, 

limbs misshapen, 

arms and legs scarred,


She stares, in silence, directly upwards,

past the darkened street lights,

past the trees, 

past the broken, open window, 

past the clouds. 

The sky responds, sheds tears of its own, 

and washes away the blood, the hurt, 

the pain. 

Friday, 16 September 2011

Due Date

"Hello, ambulance service, what's the emergency?"

"Quick, my baby is coming!"

"Is the baby coming now?"

"Yes! Quick!"

A rapid response unit is dispatched from the nearest ambulance station, its driver preparing in his mind to add another delivery to his tally. Arriving no more than three minutes later, and rushing with multiple items to the front door, I am met by the lady in question and stupidly, ask the obvious.

"Is the ambulance for you?"

"Yes! Quick! The baby is coming."

The young lady in question is in no distress, and is having no contractions.

"When's the baby due?"


The calls to ambulance control are numbered, resetting to call number 1 at midnight. This is call number 3. The call start time is only a few seconds after the witching hour. 

"I understand that you think the baby is coming now, but why do you think that? Are you having contractions? Have your waters broken? Do you feel like you need to push?"

"I don't understand what you're asking me. Talk to him. I just need to get to the hospital!"

"Is he your partner?" 

"No. He's my babyfather." Babyfather. I never get used to hearing that. 

He doesn't utter a word, just hands over the yellow book, it's corners dog-eared and cover stained, and the expected delivery date hand-written in the top corner. He points repeatedly to the date as he shoves the book into my hands. Through gritted teeth and a look of disdain he mutters the only words he would say. 

"The book says it's today, so it's today. Now just take her to the damn hospital." 

"Is this your first baby?"

"Mine, yes. Him, not. He's got four. Well, will have today." 

"You do realise that just because the due date is today, doesn't automatically mean that that's when the baby will be born? It's just an estimated due date!" 



"Oh. But that's why I waited 'til midnight to call!"

"As it happens, most babies aren't born on their due date at all. You need to go into labour first. You know, contractions and stuff." 

"Oh. But it's the due date. So can you take me to the hospital?" 

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Nurse In Charge

The nurse in charge sees us walking Martha into the department. 

"Stop right there!" She shouts. "She's not coming in here unless she's been searched!" 

Back at Martha's house, we had spent an hour negotiating with her, at first through a closed door, and then, finally, face to face after she agreed to let us in. She seemed pleased with her achievements, proudly listing the cocktail of drugs and alcohol that she'd ingested over the previous hour or two. If what she told us was accurate, or even close to it, she would need some serious medical attention, and quickly. 

"Of course she's been searched. The police even stopped her bringing a large kitchen knife with her." 

As we were about to leave, Martha asked if she could go back to the kitchen to get her packet of cigarettes. I waited by the front door as a police officer accompanied her back into the house. Suddenly, he shouted at her to "Put that down!" at which point I saw Martha return a knife to the kitchen drawer. Grinning manically, she put the cigarettes in her hand bag, and we all made our way to the ambulance.

"I don't care. She's not coming in here until she's searched again. Check everything and everywhere. Last time, she'd hidden a knife in her boot." I looked again. She was wearing knee-high boots over a pair of jeans. The two officers who had accompanied us looked at each other, and then at Martha. We all moved into a side room, the eagle-eyed nurse in charge watching every move. 

As she was searched again, Martha started a search of her own. 

"Where's my handbag?" 

I had a quick glance around the room and just outside too. The bag was nowhere to be seen. 

"Must still be in the ambulance. I'll go get it."

The handbag had been in the kitchen, the cigarettes were shoved inside, and Martha had turned her back to us for a second to pick up a lighter too. "No point having ciggies and no fire to light 'em with!" she'd said at the time. "You coppers need to lighten up a little!"

I think that all men struggle to know what to do when asked to hold a lady's handbag. We struggle to look at ease, for fear of looking, too, well, at ease, really. I walked back in to the department, looking and feeling a little uncomfortable, clutching the handbag at the top and letting the handles hang loose by the sides. Stepping back in to the side room, I attempt to hand the bag back to Martha.

"Oh. No. You. Don't... Not. Before. It's searched!" The emphasis of every word, every syllable did the trick, and I gave the bag to the officer. He opened it up, and blue-gloved hands rummaged through the contents. There were dozens of pieces of paper, chocolate wrappers, lipsticks, a packet of cigarettes and lighter. Right at the bottom, hidden by everything that had been thrown on top, was a serrated kitchen knife, with a six inch blade.

"And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I'm in charge, and Martha isn't."

And to think how close I was to that knife, all the way to hospital...

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Ten Years On

I, too, remember where I was, and what I was doing, as I heard the news for the first time. I was a travel agent at the time, and the first I knew of the events of "Nine-Eleven" was when a customer called to say that he'd heard there'd been an accident, a plane crash into one of the Twin Towers, and he wondered if and how it would affect his plans for the night flight to LaGuardia airport.  One half of my brain prayed that, assuming it was true, it had indeed been an accident, whilst the other half, the cynical half, screamed terrorism. Twenty minutes later, the world and I knew for sure. 

Ten years later, ceremonies have taken place all over the world to commemorate the shocking events of the day that changed the world. Ten years later, New York City can stand and watch as the site is rebuilt from the ashes, the Pentagon once again has five walls, and a scarred field in Pennsylvania where heroes came to rest, is once again nothing more than just that. Only one thing remains the same: thousands upon thousands of people are left grieving with nothing but memories of loved ones. 

Three thousand people lost their lives that day. Office workers, airline passengers, members of all the Emergency Services, bystanders watching the world change before their very eyes. America as a nation lost something else that day too: its innocence. The realisation that there are people out there whose very own lives mean less to them than the cause they purportedly stand for was a problem, a distant news item, that, until that day, was safely thousands of miles away in the Middle East and Asia. On that fateful day, mass terror, suicide terror, hit the streets of two of the most famous cities in the world. Four years later it hit the streets of London too.

That terror had a cause, has a cause. They want to change the world. They want a world that adheres to their rules, their beliefs, their dictum. It is a world that our minds cannot comprehend and cannot allow. It is a world that we're fighting against, and must keep doing. 

Since that day, the day the world changed forever, everything has changed, and yet nothing has. This morning, as I thought back to the horrors in America, as the pictures replayed over and over again on television, as one caller after another on the radio recalled where they were and what they were doing, I took one of my children to play football. Yesterday was spent with family and friends, tomorrow the kids go back to school. Life goes on, much as it was before. Airport security may be tighter than ever before, we may all be a little more aware of our surroundings, a little less innocent, but life goes on, much as it was before. 

Since the day that everything changed, nothing's changed. 

And that's our victory. 

Friday, 9 September 2011


The feet appeared first, his legs skewed apart

mimicking the lines they draw in the movies.

His upper body hidden from view, the suspense building, 

following a plot like the movies.

Climbing over a table to see blood spattered walls,

and a gun lying spent on the floor. 

Finding him there, motionless, lifeless. 


Looking for some way to help. 

Finding none. 

Realising that this isn't the movies. 

And knowing, again, that happily-ever-after 

is often nothing more than a movie, a wish, a dream. 

Wednesday, 7 September 2011


Mrs Symonds collapsed as she sat down in her own home for the first time in over a month. At first, her family thought that she'd just fallen asleep, exhausted by travelling half way across the world. Moments later, the strange noises she was making alerted them that something was wrong. Her head lolled forwards and she started to fall towards the floor. Only the quick thinking of her son prevented her from injury as he helped her gently to the ground. Frantic, he tried to wake her up as his wife called for an ambulance. 

Five minutes later, I was there, and Mrs Symonds was lying on the floor wide awake and wondering what the fuss was all about.

"She just dropped! I caught her and made sure she didn't hit the deck, but I think she had a stroke or something!" 

"What makes you say that?"

"Well, I remember seeing those ads on TV, you know where they show the head on fire, and I think that that's what happened." 

Mrs Symonds didn't seem too impressed. 

"Don't be so ridiculous man, just get me up off the floor!" 

I convinced her to stay where she was at least until I could make sure that her blood pressure was high enough to allow her to sit up again. 

"You've got to watch her," said her son,"she's usually got her wits about her more than all of us put together." 

"Right. Will do." 

It sounded like a simple faint, with the action of laying down on the floor rebooting the systems that so clearly needed a brief rest. However, without further tests, nothing could be ruled out for sure. 

An ECG showed that her heart was probably the one they used for the text book of a normal heart. 

Her baseline observations were all normal. 

Her arms were at full strength. 

Her speech was normal, her mind sharp.

A request for her to smile and show me her teeth, just to test for any facial droop, indeed had her smiling. 

And digging into her handbag for her teeth... 

Thursday, 1 September 2011

The Other Leg

Late evening in the city, where another weekend heads to a close as the world prepares to face another Monday morning. There's a definite chill in the air, a disappointing summer fizzling out as the nights begin to draw in, yet all around people are spilling out of pubs and clubs wearing no more than the bare essentials. The street sweepers are out in force, one of them earning a torrent of verbal abuse for daring to complain to yet another youth for throwing an empty cup on the floor.

Rash and his friends walk away laughing, alcohol and bravado fueling yet more antics until, suddenly, he loses his footing on the edge of the kerb. His leg twists, snaps and gives way, and he crumples in a heap on the floor. The street sweeper sees it happen, yells something about karma and walks away to continue his never-ending litter hunt. 

We're dealing with a drunk no more than ten paces away, another victim of just having a good time and she doesn't usually get like this. Each of us, Dean and I, has one eye on our patient making sure we don't get covered in vomit, and another on the altercation, looking for signs of a fight breaking out. When Rash falls, we're close enough that we see his leg change direction and clearly hear the crack in the bone. 

"Stay there!" I shout. "We're coming." Dean calls for help, asking for a second ambulance.

Unable to move even if he wanted to, Rash lies on the ground screaming in pain. Two police officers patrolling the area hear the noise, which even in the bustling surroundings was out of the ordinary, and come to investigate. The bad timing on their part means they get to stay with the vomiting drunk and her overly exuberant friend.

Dean brings the trolley bed and a splint over, the need to see the injury first seeming superfluous having witnessed the noise it made. Nevertheless, a pair of shears always beats a pair of jeans in the trauma version of "rock, paper, scissors" (where the rock or paper are any item of clothing which may be hiding any part of the anatomy that needs to be viewed directly, in a hurry and with a minimum of movement), and seconds later Rash sees his leg for the first time since getting dressed earlier in the evening. He looks down at his ankle, and instantly looks away.

"Do you think it's broken?" It's more of a last gasp attempt at denying what he already knows than a real question.

"Well, I think the fact that your foot is facing the wrong way and there are two bones sticking out of your ankle would probably confirm that." Ten paces away, as if on cue, our drunken patient vomits for the umpteenth time. One of the police officers sends us a grateful stare, all the more grateful now that another ambulance has arrived to deal with her.

We load Rash into the ambulance, dose him up with some pain relief, and straighten his leg out as much as possible before heading to the nearest hospital. The screams of pain as we pull his leg straight subside once his foots faces front again, entonox and morphine leaving him a little dazed. When I ask his date of birth, he hesitates, looking at his friend for guidance. A shrug of the shoulders was the only reply.

"How old are you Rash?"


"And what's your date of birth?"

He tells me a day and a month without hesitation, but when it comes to the year, all he could say was "Ummm..."

"OK, so how old are you really?"

"Sixteen. And a half." And a half. Of course. That makes all the difference.

"And why didn't you want us to know that?"

"I didn't want those coppers to arrest me again. You know, for being drunk under age and all that."

"What do you mean arrest you again?"

"Well, I've already been arrested five times before. I was twelve the first time!" He high-fives his friend, seemingly proud of his criminal record.

"Twelve? What were you arrested for at twelve?"

"Fighting!" Another laugh, and another high-five.

"And you were twelve?"

"Yeah man. I've still got the scars now!"

"And you're proud of that?"

"Well, yeah, why not? But not as proud as I am of something else." He shoots his friend a knowing look, and they both smile.

"What's that, Rash?"

He pulls up his other trouser leg and proudly shows off his electronic tag. "Got this last month, didn't I! All my mates want one now, it's, like, so cool!"

"You know that you'll probably get nicked now anyway, out after what I presume is your curfew time?"

"Oh what? Even if I'm in hospital? Pull the other one, yeah?"

"I already did."