First off, apologies for being so bad at keeping this blog up to date, everything has been so hectic lately I haven’t had time to sit down and write. Secondly, this is quite a wall of text, you have been warned. Now, with that out of the way, on to the good parts!
Before going on call solo, we like new responders to go out with a more experienced responder to learn the ropes. Its one thing learning everything in the classroom, but regardless of how practical the teaching is, nothing beats real life. It’s not just to hone your skills, but it’s the other little things which you don’t learn whilst on the course; things like dealing with Ambulance control, how to do an effective handover to the crew and so forth.
So with that in mind, on my first shift, I met up with Chris, who has been responding in different counties now for many years on Saturday night. We went through the kit bag to check we weren’t missing anything, checked the O2 cylinders were full and called up control to sign on.
Now the thing about being a First Responder is, you never know when you’re going to get a call, so we sat there chatting for a couple of hours with nothing at all. In fact, it was another week of being on call until I got my first alert through and from then on it was nonstop.
The way we get calls is via SMS messages to a phone. These messages are essentially “Pre-Alerts” which are automatically sent via control when a specific AMPDS code is generated from a 999 call. After the message, you may get a call from control asking you to attend, or you could call them yourself saying you’re available to go. Sometimes they may say they have a crew closer than you so there is no need, sometimes you may get a call without an SMS. It’s never the same day to day.
Thursday evening, and I’m sitting at home watching TV when the phone goes off: “ELDERLY MALE, FALLEN, BACK PAIN” Two issues with any messages we get, first off, people who call 999 tend to be of a non-medical background and tense or anxious, secondly, there’s only so much information you can fit in to a 140 character SMS. “NOT BREATHING” may turn out to be a slight wheeze so until you arrive on scene, you’re never 100% sure.
As soon as that message comes through the adrenaline surge is intense, whilst not a life threatening issue, it tends to be the actual activation message itself which gets me pumped, so I get in the car and drive (safely and at the designated speed limit) to the scene. It was about 3 minutes away from me, as I turned the corner and arrived, I see an RRV, and Ambulance and Eddie, the other Responder on call. Beaten to it!
Standing down from that call, I was heading home and filled the car up with petrol, no sooner had I paid than I get another alert: “35 YOM, ROCK CLIMBING, FALLEN 15 METRES ON TO BACK” This one doesn’t sound too pleasant, falling 15 meters on to your back at any time isn’t going to be pretty, but in the pitch black whilst rock climbing doesn’t help things. Unfortunately, the location we were given was pretty vague as cliffs don’t tend to have their own postcodes! Luckily, I asked for directions from a nearby dog walker and we arrived in a wooded area to see a man sitting in his car flashing his lights. I pulled up and it turned out he was in fact the climber who had fallen. He’d picked himself up and walked 10 minutes back to the car! I jumped in the back of the car to stabilise his c-spine whilst Eddie took his vitals and we waited for the crew to arrive. Fast forward an hour and the crew are getting him out of the car and in to the back of the van. These guys are so good at immobilising and extracting patients from vehicles it’s almost hypnotic to watch.
We leave scene and plan on signing off for the night, I say “plan on” because control have other ideas! I’m walking through the door of my house literally raising the phone to my head to call them and sign off when another alert comes through: “16 MONTH OLD BABY, SEIZURE, UNRESPONSIVE, EYES GLAZED”
I feel sick to the pit of my stomach, nobody likes Peads calls, especially babies. I check the address and it’s just around the corner from me, everything in my head is not wanting to go but I can’t not. As volunteers, we’re told if there is ever a call you don’t feel comfortable going to, you don’t have to. It’s a baby, it’s 30 seconds away, however anxious I feel about it, I can’t help thinking that this baby’s parents just want someone to help. I grab the kit bag out of the car and run it on foot. I find the house and open the door. Let me tell you, when you get a call like that, the absolute best noise in the world when you walk in the house, is a baby screaming its head off. Seriously ill children don’t cry.
I resist the urge to swear out loud at my relief. Due to “internal politics” in the NHS, we’re not actually allowed to take temperatures. Yes it’s stupid, no they won’t budge on it, but you can tell when someone is “too warm”. Babies and small children aren’t able to regulate their body heat like adults so it comes down to stripping them off and a cool cloth to help them. We’re also not allowed to administer or recommend any medication, but asking mum (who herself is 2 days late with the next baby) if she has any Calpol usually gets the hint across. The crew arrive and take the baby to hospital just to check him over but everyone is ok and mum managed not to go in to labour over all the drama!
Playing dinosaurs and trucks turned out to be the best bit of my night as it happens, but it does hit home that 99% of the calls we end up going to turn out to be people who are scared, need someone to tell them that it will be ok, and a hand to hold. TLC does amazing things for people’s state of mind, and as long as I can be the calmest one in the room, I’m doing ok.