Professor Stephen Hawking – Paying my respects

On 14th March 2018 Professor Stephen Hawking passed away.  This date is Albert Einstein’s birthday.  The Professor was born on January 8, 1942 – the 300th anniversary of the death of Galileo – two bizarre coincidences linking him with two other giants in the scientific world.   These are some of my thoughts on the impact this man made on me.

I consider the professor to be inspirational on many levels; here are three levels which occur to me:

As a physicist.

As a young man I went to university to study physics.  Professor Hawking was one of the great minds in physics, particularly in the areas of physics which interested me most – cosmology.  He pushed back the frontier of knowledge of the extreme conditions in and very close to black holes.  Although now I am obviously in a totally different career, I still enjoy following the developments of science.  I don’t claim to have the intelligence to be able to follow the details of modern physics but Professor Hawking was one of the scientists who had a knack of being able to explain complex physical phenomena so that us ‘normal’ people can understand (well, almost understand).


As a man determined to live life to the full.

As a young man Professor Hawking was diagnosed with motor neuron disease, a crippling, degenerative disease and was only given a few years to live.  I can’t imagine the degree of torment and despair this must have caused him but he still managed to live a family life, to forge a brilliant career and travel the world giving lectures to educate and inspire scientists.  Even when the disease took away his ability to talk he still gave lectures using his electronic voice simulator. His travels included a ride in the zero gravity experience plane. He obviously managed to maintain a sense of humour, he appeared in an episode of ‘The Simpsons’, an episode of ‘Futurama’, an episode of ‘Star Trek – The Next Generation’ and was credited as a guest vocalist on two Pink Floyd songs.


As a supporter of the NHS.

Professor Hawking was a great supporter of the NHS, our healthcare system here in the UK.  He spoke out publicly in support of the system and spoke against the underfunding and lack of support from the current political regime, much to the irritation of our ruling politicians.  An absolute hero to all of us who care about or work in the NHS.


To end this blog I would like to send my thoughts and condolences to his family and friends and include my favourite Stephen Hawking quote:

“However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.”  Professor Hawking 2016.

Professor Stephen Hawking.   1942 – 2018.

Surviving Storm Emma

That’s a very dramatic title.  Sorry.  Here in the UK we now seem to love dramatic titles and headlines.  According to the press we are currently in the grip of ‘the beast from the East’ (a weather system blowing from the East) and ‘Storm Emma’.   A few years ago we would have called it ‘a spell of winter weather’ but I suppose that wouldn’t sell as many newspapers or get as much internet traffic as ‘the beast from the East’ ravaging us.  To put it in perspective, where I live, we’ve had approx 2 inches of snow with drifts of approx 4 feet in places, blown around by a 40mph breeze.   It’s lasted 3 days so far and caused widespread travel disruption closing roads and forcing train and bus operators to cancel services.  We don’t cope well with the winter weather; I get a bit embarrassed when I think about how some countries cope with months of ‘proper’ snow and drifts without a single sensational headline.

Sadly however there have been a few deaths caused by the winter weather so here is my guide to coping and maybe even thriving.

  1. Keep warm. Very obvious one to start with.  If you have to go out, spend a few minutes preparing what to wear.  To stay warm in this weather you need to keep dry, nothing cools you down like being wet (just think how lovely it is to jump into the pool on a scorching holiday in the sun and how effectively it cools you).  A suitable layer next to skin can help to move any sweat caused by exertion away from your skin so it stays dry.  Nothing feels more uncomfortable than a cold, damp tee-shirt against your skin.  A few layers then to keep hold of layers of warm air near your body and stop your heat from convecting away into the winter’s day. On the outside, a good waterproof layer.  If possible, a modern, breathable waterproof is best, lets the aforementioned sweat get out while still keeping the rain or snow out. Top the outfit off with a hat.   It used to be thought that 40-45% of body heat is lost from the head.  Modern sport science experiments have disproved this but you still lose approx 7% so a hat will make a difference.
  2. Check the news reports for advice on what the roads you’re planning to use are like. If the police are saying not to risk them then it’s probably best not to.  They’re not being spoilsports but are trying to prevent you from being yet another car they have to get towed from a ditch or snowdrift.
  3. If you do have to drive anywhere, prepare. Assume you will be delayed, possibly for a few hours.  Take spare warm clothes, even in your car it can get very cold out there if you’re not moving.  Make sure your mobile (cell) phone is charged or that you have a charger for it in the car.  Take a snack or a drink.
  4. If you’re on regular medication, consider taking it with you then in the worst case if you are delayed by several hours you won’t miss a scheduled dose.
  5. You don’t need to panic buy. In the UK bad weather only normally disrupts things for a couple of days at most.  If snow storms are predicted (and we do normally get a couple of days notice) then just make sure you’ve enough of the basics to last (don’t forget the wine and chocolate!).
  6. Make sure your neighbours are ok, especially the elderly. It may not be as easy for them to get to the shops in foul weather.


The local police have found the snow helpful.  One burglar was caught when the officers followed his footprints from the crime scene to where he was hiding.  A cannabis ‘grow house’ was found when it was noticed that it was the only house with no snow on its roof at the height of the storm.  The heat required to grow the plants in the loft had melted it as it landed.

So there you have it.  As always, though, at times of adversity, human goodness tends to shine through.  There are lots of stories of people volunteering to help stranded people providing food warmth and shelter.  Farmers and 4 wheel drive owners have been helping to tow stuck cars.

Keep warm and safe.

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.

Blogger 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, 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!


  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.


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.


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.

Why I wear a Remembrance Day poppy

This blog post has no ambulance anecdotes in it; this is what the symbolic meaning of the remembrance poppy is to me.

The poppy was first used in 1921 as a symbol to commemorate the fallen military in the First World War. It was inspired by the war poem ‘In Flanders Field” by Lt Col John McCrae.  Since then it has come to be a symbol of remembrance of military fallen in every conflict including and since the First World War.

Some see it as a political statement and a measure of patriotism, some as a glorification of war and others even as a racist slur.  To me it’s none of these.  I certainly don’t glorify war – I wish we as a species could at long last ‘grow up’ and accept differences, tolerate other viewpoints and all get on and love and help each other.  John Lennon summed it up for me in his masterpiece ‘imagine’.  End of rant.

I wear a poppy to remember and honour my great uncle Saville.

Saville was born in 1899 in a small Yorkshire town, Northowram.  He joined the army in 1915, joining the Royal Army Medical Corps as a stretcher bearer.  Some stories have been passed down through the family and one of my favourites is about how Saville and his colleagues dealt with wounds.  If a wound was bleeding and they were struggling to stop the bleeding one trick they found to increase the pressure was to place a dressing on the wound then place a small stone, or even once a potato on the wound then strap a bandage around it – the stone would increase the pressure to stop the bleeding.  Coming back to the 21st century, one type of trauma dressing we use has a plastic pressure bar insert (with a projection shaped like a small potato!) to be strapped over a wound to increase pressure and help stop bleeding.  It always makes me smile to myself because I think that my uncle and his friends invented this gadget!

Saville was awarded the Military Medal for bravery during a particularly fierce battle making several sorties out into no-man’s land to fetch wounded soldiers back to safety.  Tragically he was killed on the first of October 1918 – just weeks before the end of the war.  A shell exploded above him while he was on his way to pick up some wounded soldiers and a fragment of shell casing struck him in the chest, killing him instantly.  His mother, my great grandmother, never got over her grief at losing her son.

This is just one tragic story out of the hundreds of millions of casualties in the 20th century wars but it is very personal to me.  I obviously never met my great uncle but I would love to talk to him and hope that he would be pleased I’m a modern day stretcher bearer.

That’s what the poppy means to me and that’s why I wear it.