So, you’re thinking of joining the Ambulance Service. Have a seat, make a cuppa, and I’ll tell you what you need to know to survive being an Ambulance Person.
One of the most important things to realise about working for the Ambulance Service, is that it’s not all blood and guts. In fact, it’s been quite a while since I’ve seen any guts, or brains, or body parts that should be inside the body. A large amount of our work is medical complaints; chest pain; shortness of breath; abdominal pain; strokes; headaches etc. There’s also a very large portion of mental health and social concern cases. Because of that, you need my number one rule:
- Be able to talk to anyone.
I once heard a Paramedic of 30 years say he could talk to anyone with an asshole. I thought he was joking, but actually, this is a skill you need to have. As you become more experienced and knowledgable, you’ll be able to talk about more specialist medical things, but first, being able to talk and not being scared of you own shadow is a good start. This brings me to point number two.
- Trust in your training.
You’ll turn up to your first emergency call wearing the uniform of thousands before you and be expected to know what you are doing. Have faith, you won’t be on your own (hopefully) and your basic training will kick in, no matter what the call is. For a newbie, it’s all about A B C and not doing any harm. Increased skills and knowledge will come along in time. You won’t be expected to attend (by which I mean sit in the back of the ambulance and treat on the way to hospital) a very unwell patient, so you’ll be driving the truck more than your crew mate, and so:
- ALWAYS drive to the condition of your patient.
During your driver training, you’re taught to drive as fast as it is safe to go. In reality, when driving a 6 tonne ambulance through narrow city streets with a seriously unwell patient in the back, speed is the last thing you want. Smoothness is the key! I learnt that very early on after a bollocking from my crew mate who nearly fell to the floor while treating an unwell child in the back of the ambulance while I drove on blues to the hospital. These vehicles do not handle well, they wallow around every corner and feel every bump! You’ll be thankful of this advice when the time comes for your crew mate to drive you to A&E with a patient in the back.
- Support your crew mate
You’re with them for 12 hours (or likely more) a day in a very small space, during sometimes some very emotionally charged scenes. Unless the clinical decision is dangerous, always support your crew mate. It looks unprofessional to argue on scene and will create a difficult working environment for the two of you. You can always talk it out after you’ve dropped the patient off at A&E. I’ve done shifts with people I really haven’t liked, I’m talking about proper dicks, but when it came to the clinical stuff, you need to work together, especially when time is critical. Which brings me to point 5:
- Don’t panic!
It will be tempting. You’ll have to stop and take a few deep breaths, you’re ears will be ringing and your vision narrows, you’ll feel your own heart punching you in the chest, your legs will feel weak and your brain will be moving so fast you’ll forget your own name. This will happen the first time you come across something serious like a horrific car crash. And subsequent times after that. Don’t worry about it, but don’t let it affect your care. Even the most experienced medics have that surge of adrenaline during incidents like this. The key is to take your time with things: like a swan – calm and smooth above water, but underneath paddling like fuck!! Your colleagues will be excellent and you’ll fit into the team. You’ll either know what to do, or be told what to do – both are absolutely fine.
- You’ll have memories, good and bad
No need to elaborate too much here. You’ll see some of the funniest, strangest and most heartwarming things doing this job. You’ll also see things that will steal sleep from you, give you flashbacks and haunt you. You need to be ready for that. Take comfort in the fact that you won’t be alone, and there are support networks in place.
This list isn’t exhaustive, there are hundreds of survival tips I could throw at you, but that would make a very long post indeed.
Now probably the most important rule of all:
- Never, I mean NEVER pass up the opportunity to go to the toilet. You might not see another one for 8 hours! (That ‘drive to the patient’s condition’ rule will soon go out the window when driving to hospital with a bladder the size of a small continent fit to burst!!)
This really is the best job in the world. The government won’t ever appreciate what we do, senior managers will alter your terms to make 12 hours seem harder and harder in the name of ‘efficiency’. You’ll miss your family and friends, spend Christmas Day in the houses of strangers and your body clock won’t know what hour of the day it is. But really, this job is like no other – you’re trusted with people’s lives, you offer relief to those who are anxious and ease the pain of those in need.
It’s not for everyone, but if you can stomach it, do it!