My top ten favourite moments at work

I think it’s time for another top ten list.   This is my list of my favourite work related moments.  Not in any particular order.

 

  1. When we’re trying to resuscitate someone who is in cardiac arrest (not breathing and no pulse), it’s a great feeling when we get a pulse back (Return of Spontaneous Circulation (ROSC)). Even better if the person starts to breath for themselves too although this normally happens a bit later when the person is in the resuscitation room and we’ve handed over to the hospital staff.  It’s nice to track the patient’s progress through the hospital to the point where they are discharged home and back to their families.
  2. When a job flows smoothly. There is a certain flow from the point when we are given a job to the point where we hand the patient over in the Emergency Department (ED).  Sometimes the job flows more smoothly than other times.  Things can go wrong, equipment can let us down or the patient may not agree to the recommended care path way.  Sometimes it’s not easy or possible to cannulate the patient if required (insert a small tube (cannula) in the patient’s vein by inserting a needle which is encased in a plastic tube on the outside and then removing the needle leaving the tube in place).  A range of our drugs are given through the cannula (intravenous (IV) so if I can’t cannulate then I can’t give the patient any of the IV drugs or fluids.  It’s great when everything works and flows smoothly.
  3. When pain relief starts to work. Many of our jobs are people who are in pain.  This can range from sudden pain due to an injury or illness or ongoing pain caused by a long term condition which has gradually got worse to the point the patient can’t cope and calls us for help.  We have a range of techniques and drugs (analgesics) we use to relieve pain.  For an injury, eg broken limb, using a splint to immobilise the injury helps to ease the pain.  Reassurance also helps because fear plays a part in making the perception of pain worse, particularly in children.  No one likes to see another human in pain so it’s a great feeling when the patient starts to relax as the pain eases.
  4. When an unwell, scared child relaxes and starts to smile and laugh. When children are unwell or injured they are usually scared too which makes the feelings much worse. As long as the illness or injury is not time critical, we take a while to let the child get used to us.  We involve mum, dad or any other care-giver and encourage the child to show us their favourite toy or book.  It’s a good feeling as the child starts to relax and even laugh.
  5. When we can hear back up crews approaching. When we’re on a big job and have requested back up, it’s a huge relief to hear them approaching in the distance.
  6. When someone says thank you. I know it’s our job to help and it’s what we get paid to do, but we’re human too and it’s fantastic when someone appreciates the help we’ve given them and thanks us.
  7. When we get a free coffee. Very cheeky one this but some places give us free coffees while we’re on duty. Fantastic!
  8. Seeing a student progress. I’m a mentor so I quite often have a student for a year.  In the UK paramedics study at university and have frequent placements with us on the road during their course.  I love to see the student progress over the year from being nervous and confused to become a confident, competent paramedic.
  9. Hearing the relief crew arriving at the end of the shift. If we happen to be on station towards the end of the shift (very rare but it can happen) it’s an unbelievable relief when you hear the relief staff arriving.
  10. End of the shift. Home time!!

It was on the news, it must be right, right?

I’m writing this week’s blog about a recent news article in our area.  It featured some community first responders (CFRs) speaking out to a news team.  They were expressing various concerns among which were that CFRs were spending a long time on scene waiting for the ambulance staff to arrive and another concern that CFRs were being asked by the ambulance service to ‘discharge’ patients without the need for an ambulance to attend.

The tone of the article was quite negative.  It implied that the ambulance service were being quite negligent and trying to do things ‘on the cheap’.  The general public may have their confidence knocked in the ambulance service.  Some of our excellent (and very competent) volunteer CFRs and ECFRs feel de-motivated by the article.

As always, these are my own opinions and do not necessarily represent my employing ambulance service, my union or any of my colleagues.  It is all just my own humble opinion.  I also only speak about my own area, other areas may and probably do have different procedures and guidelines.

Community First Responders are volunteers who undertake training in their own time and at their own expense.  They are then provided with a uniform, pager and some equipment.  In their spare time they log on duty with the emergency operational control centre (EOC).  Then when certain categories of jobs come in details are passed to the CFR by pager and they set off (in their own car, no emergency lights or sirens) to the address to assess and provide initial first aid until the ambulance or response car arrive and then lend a hand to the paramedic or technician.  Some CFRs have undertaken extra training to become Enhanced CFRs (eCFRs).  ECFRs are trained to the same level as Emergency Medical Technician level 1 (EMT1).  ECFRs respond in the same way as CFRs and use their extended skills to assess the patient and provide certain treatment while waiting for the ambulance or response car.  I’ve already blogged about them here.

Getting back to the article:

CFRs (and eCFRs) waiting on scene for long periods with no ambulance response.

It’s true that people are waiting long times for an ambulance response.  At the time of writing it is winter and the well known ‘winter pressures’ are putting a seasonal strain on all aspects of healthcare.  Phenomenal demand for services means that a high volume of 999 calls are coming in.  Added to this, hospitals are pretty full with very few spare beds.  This means that patients in the Emergency Departments (EDs) are waiting for beds on wards with no beds available so they have to wait on trolleys (gurneys) in the ED.  This in turn means that the EDs become full so ambulances have to wait longer to hand over our patients meaning that ambulances are tied up at EDs and not out responding to emergencies.

I know it’s difficult for the CFR/eCFRs on scene for ages but I know that the members of the public are relieved and grateful to have you there, every one generally understands the current political climate and know that you (and us) on the ‘front line’ of emergency care are not to blame.

Discharging patients.

This is an emotive point.  The word ‘discharge’ in this context means to provide a safe, appropriate plan for a patient without the need to attend the ED.  This can mean a visit to or from a doctor (General Practitioner (GP)), either the patient’s own GP or the Out of Hours GP service (OOHGP).  It may also mean a visit from a nurse, or it may mean that after assessing a patient reassuring them that they don’t need to do anything now, just wait for natural healing to occur and see their own GP in a few days if needed. The minimum level of education needed to discharge a patient is nurse, paramedic or EMT2 (the cover-all term for medical staff is clinician).   Some cases the clinician can discharge with no further referral, some cases the clinician has to consult a doctor (usually one of the OOHGPs) by phone to affect the discharge.  The emphasis with any discharge is always safety.  Advice is always given about what to look out for which may show that the patient is deteriorating and what to do in that case after the clinician has left the patient.  This is called ‘escalation advice’.

The point of the article seems to be that CFRs are being expected to discharge without the patient seeing a trained clinician.

Discharges have already for many years been safely made by phone without a clinician actually visiting the patient.

If a patient rings the OOHGP or their own GP for a consultation the patient will speak to a call taker or receptionist who will take basic details.  The patient will then speak to a clinician who will ask detailed questions about the symptoms experienced by the patient and their detailed medical history.  From this, sometimes the patient is then safely discharged with a safe, appropriate care plan without seeing the clinician.

When someone rings 999 for an ambulance the call taker asks lots of computer generated questions.  Based on the answer to these the job is categorised in terms of seriousness.  Certain of the lower category jobs are then passed on to a group of clinicians in the EOC who ring the caller back.  In the same way as the clinician at the GP service they will assess over the phone and may be able to safely discharge the patient without an ambulance or any clinician visiting the patient.

The CFR or eCFR would never be expected (or allowed) to make a discharge decision alone.  The CFRs have access by phone to clinicians in EOC who with the benefit of the clinical observations measured by the CFR (pulse rate, respiration rate, blood pressure, blood sugar level) in addition to the signs and symptoms experienced can safely make a discharge decision if appropriate before the ambulance or response car arrives.

I guess my messages from all this are:

  • Although far from ideal response times are currently being experienced, if a discharge decision is made it is by a fully educated and trained clinician to national guidelines. Safety of the patient is always foremost in a discharge decision and escalation advice is always given.
  • CFRs and eCFRs should be proud to serve their communities and I know from talking with many of my patients that they are admired for their unselfish contribution to the local community.

Collapse in the street

I’ve just noticed that most of my anecdotal blogs seem to end in tragedy.  Just so people don’t get the wrong idea about me and my paramedic skills I thought I’d include this one which has a HAPPY ENDING!

It was a Saturday afternoon, Tony and I were just over half way through our day shift.  Through the morning we had drifted further away from our normal area and were in a neighbouring town.  We were on our way to the next emergency when a category 1 emergency jumped the queue and was passed to us – a 45 year old female had collapsed on a street and was in cardiac arrest.  Luckily a bystander who saw her collapse was first aid trained and recognised cardiac arrest and started CPR immediately while other bystanders called 999.

It didn’t take long to get to the general area, a pedestrianised street of shops on the edge of the town centre.  We were lucky; the lady had collapsed conveniently near an access road so we could get the ambulance near.  As we arrived a response car arrived too, a local paramedic, Steve got out joining us.  We took a mixture of our and Steve’s equipment to the pavement where the lady, Amy, was lying on the pavement with a first aider, Carol, doing CPR.  A local shop keeper had thoughtfully brought some screens out and arranged them round Amy to give some privacy.  I asked Carol to continue with chest compressions while we prepared our equipment.  Tony connected the Bag-Valve-Mask (BVM) device to an oxygen cylinder. A BVM is a rugby ball shaped rubber reservoir connected to a face mask.  The mask can be placed over the patient’s mouth and nose, then the reservoir is squeezed and this forces a lungful of oxygen-enriched air into the patient’s lungs.  He inserted a basic airway into Amy’s mouth, a small plastic tube which prevents the tongue from blocking the airway and took over the job of breathing for Amy as carol continued chest compressions to keep the blood circulating.  Steve and I were preparing the defibrillator – we placed 2 large, sticky gel covered electrodes to Amy’s chest.  We could monitor Amy’s heart through these and, if needed, deliver electric shocks.  In the old days we had 2 manual paddles which we had to coat with gel and hold against the chest while we analysed the rhythm and delivered the shocks. The stick-on pads are much more efficient and safer to use.  Amy’s heart rhythm was not one which would benefit from an electric shock (she was in Pulseless Electrical Activity (PEA)).

At this point we decided to move Amy to the ambulance.  We used a ‘scoop’ stretcher (a long board which splits long-wise in half so can be fed under the patient from each side and clipped together with minimal movement of the patient) to pick Amy up from the floor onto our stretcher (gurney) and then onto the ambulance, all the while continuing with chest compressions and breathing for Amy.

On the ambulance Tony took over the chest compressions (Carol the first aider was exhausted by now).  I moved to the head end of the stretcher to monitor Amy’s airway.  She had a basic airway protector in but I intubated her to fully protect her airway.  This involves putting a tube (Endotracheal tube (ET)) into the top of the wind pipe (trachea). The ET has a small balloon around the outside which once in situ in the trachea this is inflated to seal the airway and prevent vomit or other secretions getting into the airway and lungs.  Once this was in place we attached a mechanical ventilator to the projecting end of the ET.  The machine now takes over the breathing for Amy. While I was intubating, Steve was finding a vein in Amy’s arm and had cannulated.  We could now give drugs directly into Amy’s blood stream.  During resuscitation we give the drug adrenaline (also known as epinephrine) every 3 to 5 minutes.  This circulates round the body and causes surface blood vessels to constrict so all the blood is concentrated to the major organs.  We also give fluid, water with salt dissolved in to the same concentration as in the body.

During this activity I thought I noticed a slight flicker of movement on Amy’s face.  This can be a normal part of CPR, we compress the chest quite vigorously and this tends to move the whole body but as I did a pulse check I was excited to feel a pulse on the side of Amy’s neck.  We stopped the chest compressions immediately and checked Amy’s baseline observations.  Now the heart had resumed its duties in driving the blood around Amy’s circulation her baseline observations were surprisingly normal.  Her heart was beating at a normal rate, her ECG (trace of her newly started heart) looked surprisingly normal too. Amy’s blood pressure was good, she was still unresponsive and not breathing for herself but things were looking good.

This was the time to get to the local hospital.  Tony gave the hospital a pre-alert call via our control room so the staff would be ready for us and have time to prepare for us.  During the short drive to hospital I sat with one hand on Amy’s neck feeling the pulse.  She still wasn’t breathing for herself but the ventilator was breathing for her.  We transferred Amy to the care of the Emergency Department staff and then began to tidy up and make a list of the equipment we needed to restock (over a well earned cup of coffee).

Over the next few weeks we were happy to hear that Amy progressed from Intensive care to a general medical ward and was finally discharged to home having made a complete neurological recovery.   The key to Amy’s survival was the immediate good quality CPR provided by Carol, the first aider.  No amount of work by us will resuscitate a person who has been down with no CPR for the 5 minutes or more that it takes us to get to the collapse.  I can’t stress enough the respect I have for first aiders and feel that everyone should learn basic CPR – it really can make the difference between life and death.

Male on the road – no sign of life.

Warning:  contains material some might find distressing.  No happy ending.

It was a cold and rainy early morning in winter.  Tony and I were looking forward to the end of our night shift.  The shift had been busy with the usual routine type of emergencies – nothing too taxing for us.  We were on our way to the last job of the shift, a category 2 emergency – an 83 year old male who had fallen while making an early morning visit to the bathroom.  With a bleep on the data pad our plans were changed.  We were passed a category 1 emergency – immediately life threatening.

It was a report of a male lying in the road outside a bar; the caller didn’t want to get too close but was unsure if the male was alive.  It was about 6am, most bars in this area had closed hours ago so it was unlikely to be a drunk sleeping it off.  We were only a few minutes away so we would know soon.  We arrived at the bar and stopped.  We looked around but could find no trace of any male lying in the road.  Two police cars arrived shortly after us and started to look around the immediate area as Tony contacted our control room (EOC) to ask for any further details about the location.  We were both thinking that this was after all a case of a drunk male who had miraculously come back to life and wandered off before we arrived.  The message came back from EOC that the man was a few hundred yards further along the road, hidden from our view by a hill.  We jumped back in the ambulance and set off.  As we got to the crest of the hill we saw our patient.  He was lying on his back in the road with just his feet on the pavement.

We didn’t know his name, I still don’t know what his name is as I write this but I’m going to call him Jack.  This is to make the account personal and to honour the human being.  In the medical reports and police statements I referred to him as ‘the patient’ or ‘the male’.  This feels horribly impersonal and makes us forget that this is a person with a life history who has family and friends who love him.  This is for Jack.

We parked near Jack, using the headlights to provide as much light as possible on this dark rainy morning.  The police had already blocked the road in front of and behind us so at least we didn’t have to look out for cars speeding past inches from us.

I grabbed the first response bag and walked to Jack.  We rarely run, that’s when you miss things and risk having an accident yourself or further hurting the patient.  As I approached I was taking in the scene, trying to get an idea of what had happened. It was hard to see in the dark but I could see a quite large amount of blood on the downhill side of Jack’s head – obviously a head injury which was bleeding profusely.  He was fully clothed against the winter weather so it was hard to assess any other injuries.  He looked about 45 years old.  I knelt by his head to quickly assess.  Jack’s mouth was open and was full of blood so his airway was totally blocked, he was obviously not breathing and I couldn’t feel a pulse in his neck.  He was in cardiac arrest (No heartbeat and not breathing).  As I was assessing him I noticed that Jack was still quite warm.  Since he was lying on the road in the rain I knew he hadn’t been down very long.

This was decision time.

We don’t automatically try to resuscitate every cardiac arrest we attend.  Some are beyond all hope of help.  Medical cardiac arrests (caused by medical emergencies such as heart attack, stroke etc) have a slightly better chance of survival.  Studies indicate that recovery rates range from approximately 36% to 3% depending on the presenting heart rhythm, assuming immediate resuscitation attempts are made at the time of collapse.  This was a Trauma cardiac arrest (caused by trauma = physical injury).  Studies show that survival rates from traumatic cardiac arrests are 6% at best.  Certain injuries are deemed to be unsurvivable and if a patient has an unsurvivable injury we don’t attempt to resuscitate. If we decide resuscitation is viable and we start, trauma resuscitation guidelines advise that the resuscitation attempts should continue as the patient is transported to a specialist trauma centre.

The decision we had to make was: did Jack have a survivable or unsurvivable injury?  We couldn’t take long over this decision – if, after a prolonged examination we decided his injuries were survivable we would have killed him by delaying resuscitation attempts.

I decided we couldn’t say his injuries were unsurvivable here in the dark and rain on the floor so I decided to start working on Jack while we moved him into the ambulance for a closer look.  A police officer was ‘volunteered’ to do chest compressions then my next priority was to clear his airway.  Tony had brought the suction unit so I could use a tube to suck the blood from his mouth.  As soon as I cleared his airway it refilled with blood.  I decided to intubate as soon as possible.  I do this by kneeling above his head and use a laryngoscope.  This has a blunt blade at right angles to a handle with a bulb on it.  By using it to lift the tongue and lower jaw gently up I can then see the vocal chords – the structure at the top of the trachea – the windpipe.  After a last attempt to suction the blood out of the way I inserted an endotracheal tube (ET) through the vocal chords and into the top part of the trachea.  The ET is about 10 inches long and the end of the ET which sits in the trachea has a balloon on the outside, I inflate this and this seals the trachea, blood in the mouth can no longer block the airway.  The other end of the ET is projecting out of Jack’s mouth and by connecting to a ventilator we can breathe for Jack.

By this time a second ambulance, an off-duty paramedic on his way to work and a senior paramedic in a response car had arrived.  Tony was organising them to get the equipment we needed to immobilise Jack and move him to the ambulance.  Under Tony’s supervision as I concentrated on protecting the airway and neck, a police officer continued chest compressions we immobilised and moved Jack into the ambulance.

In the ambulance where it was brightly lit (and warm and dry) we could fully assess Jack.  While still carrying on the resuscitation attempt, we cut all Jacks clothes off.  It was obvious that Jack’s injuries were severe; this wasn’t just a case of falling over and banging his head on the kerb.  Multiple fractures were now obvious throughout Jack’s body and his head injury was substantial.  As a team we sadly decided that continued resuscitation would be unsuccessful so we stopped.

This was a breach of our guideline.  If we decide not to attempt or to terminate resuscitation we’re not supposed to put the patient on the ambulance. Legally speaking, the site of a traumatic death is a crime scene until the police have ruled out foul play.  By moving the patient to the ambulance the ambulance becomes the crime scene.  Our managers frown on this.  In the debrief, the senior staff agreed that this was an exceptional case and I couldn’t have done anything else.  I couldn’t have said that Jack’s injuries were unsurvivable without a proper examination and I couldn’t do that in the dark on the road.  They all reluctantly agreed that they would have done the same.

I still don’t know what happened to Jack that morning.  His injuries suggested high energy impact, not just falling over.  One possibility was a hit and run RTC – the injuries weren’t typical of impact with a vehicle though.  The road where Jack died passes through a cutting in the hill with steep embankments about 60 feet high on both sides.  The most likely explanation was that he fell or jumped from the top of one of the embankment walls.

It was a sad, late and wet finish to our night shift.

Blogger recognition award

bogger-recognition-award

I’m thrilled and very grateful for being nominated for the Blogger Recognition Award.  I would like to thank Noel Hartem who blogs at https://noelliesplace.com, with views on life expressed in powerful poetry and prose.  I’m relatively new to the blogging community and it’s fantastic that a fellow blogger thinks enough of my writing to nominate me.

The suggestions for nominees are:

  1. Thank the blogger who nominated you, include a link to their blog.
  2. Give a brief description of your blog site.
  3. Share 2 or more pieces of information for new bloggers
  4. Nominate 10 other bloggers
  5. Comment on each blog telling them you have nominated them with a link back to your award post.

My blog, rustysiren, is a mixture of my experiences from 21 years working as a paramedic in a big UK city and random views on life.  My passion is mental health; that of the patients I meet and try to help and also the work-related mental health of my colleagues.

Advice for new bloggers

  1. Work on your writing to make your content readable, interesting and compelling.
  2. Blog about the things you are passionate about. Your passion and excitement will show through your writing.
  3. Enjoy your writing.
  4. Read and comment constructively on other blogs, enjoy the comments you get in return, it’s great fun!

Nominations

  1. Dr Perry at Make It Ultra.
  2. Rough Bandit.
  3. Elsie LMC.
  4. Damn Girl Get Your Shit Together.
  5. Merbears World
  6. Combat Medic
  7. On the couch
  8. Love,Nourish.Enjoy
  9. Brobeck at Homeless: Life on the Streets
  10. Emmanuel Rockan.

 

Gravity always wins!

It’s no secret and no big surprise but all aspects of the NHS in the UK are overstretched now.  The pressure is felt as much in the Ambulance service as anywhere.  The impression given by the media is that drunk and drug related incidents are the main cause.  We do get these jobs, of course, but in my experience these are not the most time consuming of our jobs.

My experience is that most of our jobs are elderly people unwell or falling.  NHS (in the UK) stats tell us that 1 in 3 people over the age of 65 will have at least 1 fall per year, about half of these fallers will have more than 1 fall.  At the end of the 20th century and start of the 21st we are living longer than our ancestors.  This means that the age range of the population is increasing and the proportion of elderly in the population is increasing.

With age can come weakness, balance problems and reduced co-ordination – these all contribute to the increased risk of falling.  The highest risk times for falling seem to be late at night and early morning.  Many of our elderly population seem to be prescribed medication to help them sleep at night this obviously leads to drowsiness and increased risk of falling when getting out of bed to visit the bathroom.

The consequences of falls in the elderly can be severe.  A common injury is a fractured ‘neck of femur’ (#nof (the hash symbol in this case is not a hashtag, it’s medical shorthand for fracture)).  The femur is the thighbone, the longest bone in the body.  At the top of the femur there is a ball shape which projects at an angle and fits in a socket in the pelvis forming the hip joint.  The portion of bone between the main shaft of the femur and the ball joint is called the ‘neck of the femur’ and is the weakest part of the whole bone.  With increasing age the bones can become less dense and more brittle.  If a person then falls and lands on his or her hip then this easily causes a #nof.  This requires surgery to repair with all the associated risks of surgery in the elderly and then a period of immobilisation in hospital (typically 6 weeks) followed by a period of physiotherapy.  Another common problem is a head injury – many elderly people are on ‘blood thinning’ medication (anticoagulotherapy).  In this case a trip to the Emergency Department is needed for a CT scan to rule out a bleed on the brain.

What do we do when we get to a fall?

First thing, as always, is to quickly assess airway, breathing, circulation and responsiveness.  Once we’re happy that the patient is alive and breathing we make them as comfortable and warm as possible on the floor while we assess their baseline observations and examine for injuries.  If there are no injuries and the patient is medically stable the next step is to get up from the floor.  If the patient is unable to get up themselves with instruction and assistance from us we use an inflatable cushion to lift.  When deflated, the cushion is flat and can be slid under the patient’s bottom (with some shuffling, leaning, sliding and under-the breath-swearing!).  Once in position we connect a series of pipes to a compressor and inflate the cushion.  The patient can then simply stand from sitting and we can assess his/her mobility.  If all is well, we can safely leave the patient at home (after we have completed the mountain of associated paperwork).  One further service we perform is to refer the patient on to a falls prevention team.  This is a multi-disciplinary team of people who visit the patient and get involved to try and prevent further falls.  This may involve physiotherapy to improve strength and balance, it may involve a review of possible walking aids with training in how to use them and it usually involves advice on lifestyle and adapting the home to remove or minimise trip hazards.

I’m not for one second suggesting that falls are not a genuine part of our job but falls do take up a lot of ambulance time.  What’s the answer?  I don’t know if there is an answer.  We are always going to be needed when elderly and vulnerable people fall.  I believe falls prevention plays a huge part in preventing repeated falling.  It’s a pity that you have to have a fall before the falls prevention team get involved; it would be good to see the falls prevention team’s roles increased so they could get involved with everyone as a certain age is reached to prevent even the first fall.

A (homeless) man about town.

This follows on from my ‘Homeless for Christmas’ blog.  I don’t talk about the causes of homelessness here; it’s about a man who I’ve known for about 15 years as one of the local ‘characters’ of my local town. I started to write about him in that blog but then decided he deserved one to himself.  He has several nicknames about town; let’s call him ‘Dimps’.  This particular nickname comes from his habit of stooping regularly as he walks along the road to pick up a cigarette end (dimp) from the floor.

As long as I’ve known him he has been ‘no fixed abode’ (NFA).  Most of that time, surprisingly he has managed to avoid sleeping on the streets by staying at various friends and sleeping on sofas.  The ambulance gets called regularly for him when he gets too ‘out of it’ and his (usually equally ‘out of it’ friends) get concerned about his boisterous behaviour.  Dimps is alcohol dependant.  When I first met Dimps his drink of choice was sherry, time has not been kind to him, his drink of choice is now cheap cider which comes in the 2 or 3 litre plastic bottles.  Dimps is normally a cheerful and friendly drunk who doesn’t cause us trouble.  Even though he has been a frequent user of the service, most staff quite like him because of his cheerful nature.

The one time I’ve seen him act out of character was when one of his friends gave him a pill to try along with some cocaine. I don’t know what the pill was; some kind of stimulant presumably, but along with the cocaine he became aggressive and violent, so his friends of course called for us to get him out of their flat.  I managed to calm him down enough to get on the ambulance and assess him.  Then we took him to the Emergency Department (ED) of the local hospital. As my mate and I were leaving the department there was suddenly a lot of shouting behind us and next second security were running to the nurses’ station.  Dimps had tried to attack a nurse as she went to assess him.   It took 3 police officers and the 2 security guards to get the usually mild mannered, affable Dimps out of the department and into a police van.

Dimps can usually be seen begging in the town centre but from time to time disappears for months at a time.

One time he disappeared for a few months then reappeared wheeling himself around in a chair, his leg had been badly broken and was now pinned and plated.  He was temporarily housed in a hostel near our station in the next town to his home town.  We used to see him travelling between his room and the local off licence for his supplies and watched him progress from chair to crutches to a walking stick and finally to walking unaided.  Then he disappeared and reappeared in his normal town.

Once when we had been called to Dimps and he was quite coherent I asked him why he didn’t accept any of the many offers of accommodation which had been made over the years and he said he didn’t like to feel trapped by living in a house.  He preferred to stay with his friends.

In the days leading up to Christmas Dimps was out on the streets again.  One night we saw him sleeping in a bus shelter. The next night we saw him in the ED waiting room and had a chat with him.  He had walked to the hospital to get his leg looked at.  He has a leg ulcer, a wound which won’t heal – difficult to manage in good living conditions, almost impossible out on the streets.  We asked where he was sleeping and said he was going back to his shelter – he had refused emergency hostel accommodation.  We made him a hot drink and gave him a bag with a sandwich and 2 blankets in we ‘borrowed’ from the department.  Over the next few days he was sleeping in his shelter.  It was nice to see that people had been donating blankets a duvet and even an umbrella to him – his bus shelter looked like a (slightly scruffy) camp site.  Temperatures were dropping and overnight were recorded at -5C.  Dimps was a subject of several conversations at the hospital as we were all concerned about him as the snow was forecast.  The next day as I drove to work Dimps’ bus shelter was empty.  There was no sign of him and all his stuff had also been cleared away.

I don’t know what has happened to Dimps but hope he is somewhere warm and safe.  Maybe we’ll see him out and about again in the spring.

2018

It’s been a hectic couple of weeks so I haven’t had much time to blog.  I would just like to thank everyone who has read my stuff so far and everyone who follows me.  Things will get back to normal now and I aim to carry on publishing once a week.  I have a feeling that 2018 is going to be fantastic, let’s all make it great!

Best wishes to you all for a healthy, happy and content time.

Rusty.

Homeless for Christmas

I can’t think of many things worse than being homeless and forced to live on the streets but it must be especially bad at Christmas.  When most of us are putting up trees and stringing up the lights in our lovely warm rooms many people are huddling into doorways trying to shelter from the rain and the cold.

Over the years in the course of my job I have spoken to a wide range of the homeless.  Being naturally curious (some say nosy) as well as providing the medical help required, I always like to know ‘how’ and ‘why’?  ‘How’ they have come to be living on the street and ‘why’ they are living like this.  The answers given are as individual as the people giving them.

Some are escaping from an abusive home and have slipped through the safety nets provided by social services.  Some have fallen on hard times and have been evicted from a previous home without the means to find an alternative.

In some of the areas I know that there have been emergency overnight shelters available but still a large number choose instead to stay on the streets.  Why?  One young lad told me that bullying was rife in these shelters – he went to one and was threatened with violence if he didn’t give up what little he had to the ‘gang’ which seemed to control that particular place.  When I asked about staff there he said that they just weren’t interested and left the residents to ‘sort it out themselves’.  He felt safer out on the street.  Another, slightly older person said he was banned from the shelter for smuggling alcohol and crack cocaine in for his own use.  His need to feed his addiction was greater than his need for shelter.  I can see both sides to this dilemma, it’s quite right that the people running the hostels want them to be clean and safe but I can also see that realistically an addict cannot give up his addiction just like that.  It’s easy to judge and say that he should just give up the alcohol and crack cocaine but addictions are serious physical and mental conditions which take time, will power and professional help to overcome.  And once overcome, continued support and a removal from previous lifestyle and influences is required to prevent remission.

Drug use is said to be widespread among the homeless.  Advice given by the council of my city is that we should not give spare change to individual homeless people as this will be used for drugs and alcohol, we are encouraged instead to support the established charities set up to help the homeless.  This seems a bit judgemental and ‘big brother’ to me.  Sure, some will probably use the cash to buy the next fix – but maybe that’s better than mugging and stealing the cash.  I’m not in any way condoning drug use.  I’ve seen firsthand the devastating and tragic effects of recreational drugs, I’m just being realistic.  Before we judge too harshly it’s worth asking my favourite question: why?  Why are so many using drugs?  For some it starts with a wish to experience an altered state of mind, some it’s peer pressure, some to mask or escape from the reality of their lives, including PTSD from abuse or horrific military experiences.  Once the addiction kicks in obviously it’s a desperate need to feed the addiction and stave off the withdrawal symptoms.

So what’s the answer?  How do we fix things and get all the homeless into some sort of safe shelter?

In my oversimplified mind I think there are two problems to tackle:

Firstly we need to deal with the people homeless now.  We need a range of accommodation options.  Different individuals have different needs and we need a varied range of support including drug, alcohol and mental health support and all backed up with a firm, safe yet understanding regime.

Secondly we need to prevent the next generation of the homeless.  I firmly believe that we should educate our young in how to handle life.  Give them realistic and healthy coping mechanisms for the disappointments and heartaches in life and try to steer them away from the destructive ones.  Invest in community mental health services so when things go wrong support is there from the beginning to hopefully prevent the spiral downwards in mental health which can ultimately end up on the streets.

So what can every one of us do today to help?

One positive thing is to acknowledge the homeless people you see.  Make eye contact and say hi.  If you don’t feel comfortable giving change, still make contact and if necessary say you’re not giving money today but hope that things will work out for them.  Most will appreciate being acknowledged and treated as human – it may even save a life!  One homeless girl I once spoke to said one day she had made up her mind to end her life as all she could see was despair and no future.  A smile and simple human contact from a kind woman passing by changed her mind and made her decide to stay around a bit longer.

I hope you all have a wonderful, peaceful Christmas and feel comfortable, warm and loved.

Brand New Babies!

If there’s one type of job most ambulance people, especially male ambulance people, are apprehensive about it’s maternity jobs.  For me they’re the scariest type of job.  Part of our job is to deal with obstetric emergencies (emergencies in pregnancy), delivering babies and life support/resuscitation, and general newborn baby care.  I’m always reassured by the thought that Homo sapiens have successfully been giving birth to their off springs for about 200,000 years.  It’s only in the last 100 years or so that birth has moved into the domain of the medical profession.  Still scares me though.

Most of our maternity cases are in early stages of labour.  Birth is not imminent.  These types of jobs get called ‘maternitaxi’.  This isn’t really an appropriate case for an emergency ambulance, if we politely question why the ambulance was called, normally we are told that the potential mum has rung the Maternity Unit (MU) and “they told me to ring 999”.  When we arrive and hand the patient over, normally the midwife scolds them and says that they said to get a taxi not and ambulance!

Maternity cases differ from other emergencies in many ways; one major difference is the destination.  When we deal with most non-maternity jobs the destination will usually be the emergency department (ED) of the local hospital.  Certain conditions are taken to specialist units but generally for a given emergency in a given region the destination is determined by location and condition.  Maternity cases however the potential parents choose in advance which hospital MU they want to go to.  Obviously this has to be within reason – if a mum-to-be is hundreds of miles from home and labour starts an ambulance can’t travel hundreds of miles we have to settle for one of the local units.  The other main difference is that we can’t just turn up at a MU unannounced.  If the mum or dad hasn’t rung the MU then we have to get our dispatcher to ring and we can’t set off until the MU agrees to accept.  It can and sometimes does happen that a particular MU is full, in which case we are told to go elsewhere.  This is stressful for the prospective parents because they will have had lots of visits to the MU they chose during the pregnancy and to be told at the big moment that they have to go to an unfamiliar unit must be scary.  It’s scary for us too because it normally means longer before we can hand over to the midwife!

When we arrive and birth is imminent we don’t transport, we deliver the baby at home.  One of the first tasks is to request a community midwife to come to the address.  If he or she arrives before the baby then that is fantastic, midwifes are the experts in assisting birth.  If not it’s down to us.  The area where I work is covered by several MU’s.  One is a specialist MU where it is recommended all high risk pregnancies in the area book into.  Ironically, that one MU does not send midwifes into the community so the higher risk home births are left to us.  Another benefit of a midwife attending is that if all has gone normally and mum and baby are well we don’t need to transport anywhere and the new family can stay at home.  If we deliver with no midwife present then mum and baby have to go to the MU.  We then have 2 patients: mum and baby (possibly 3 if dad has fainted during the birth!).

The biggest risk to a new born is the cold.  A baby comes into the world naked and very wet.  They have very little body fat at that stage so lose heat quickly.  A priority once we know the baby is alive and breathing is to dry baby off and get them in skin-to-skin contact with mum to warm up, then wrap both up and make sure the room is warm.  A hat is an excellent idea for baby.  My regular mate Tony is a big fan of baby hats and it has become a bit of a catch phrase for him once baby is dried off: “get a hat on that baby!”

I have assisted with many births over the years, some stick in my mind:

One dad tried to drive his wife to the MU but had just left it a bit too late (or baby was impatient) and mum started to deliver in the car.  Luckily we were driving past and he was able to flag us down.  I opened the passenger door of the car to find mum with one foot on the dash board and baby’s head just visible.  I assisted the birth in the car foot well then quickly got mum and baby into the ambulance.  I asked if mum and dad had a name for their new daughter and dad joked that he would call her Corsa after the car.  I asked if he was glad he didn’t drive a Skoda…It seemed funny at the time.

Another time we were on the way to an imminent birth and we were told that the baby was breech.  The normal position for a baby about to be born is head down in the uterus so the baby comes out head first.  Breech means the baby is bottom first.  This is a complication because the head may get stuck after the body has been born.  This is a very scary situation.  As we arrived the response car was already there.  To our great relief Stella, on the car was assisting the delivery and thankfully baby came out with no complications.  Stella said that when she got there baby’s foot was visible and that was all.  She had a very anxious wait for the next contraction when mum managed to push the rest of the baby to the world.  Since no midwifes had been available to attend we had to transport mum, dad and baby to the MU.

One final birth which sticks in my mind is a 17 year old girl who lives with her parents.  She was 36 weeks pregnant and hadn’t yet figured out how to break it to her parents – she had spent the last few months wearing baggy clothes.  One Sunday morning she thought she needed the loo and baby decided to make his appearance.  Mum and baby were fine the new grandparents were shell-shocked, they had no idea when they went to bed the night before that they would be grandparents in the morning.