Wednesday 16 May 2012

A Calling

"26 year old female, made a change, found her calling"

On the 22nd of May EMS Week 2012 begins and is running another competition. It is all about informing people of why we do the job we do. They ask the simple question: 'When did you know EMS was your calling?' It's a very good question and one that I'm sat here thinking about at 4am on a rather horrendous night shift. Here I am, exhausted, standing in the back of a cold ambulance, listening to rain crash onto the windscreen whilst I clean vomit off the floor. Is this what I had chosen to be? Is this what I had chosen to do? Yes it was! And I would do it over and over again. Some will raise an eyebrow and say...'really?!' Let me explain why...

About 5 years ago I came home from another day at work. It was 'just a job'. It paid the bills but it wasn't fulfilling at all; I had ended up doing it through a number of poor choices and various inactions. Today was no different to the end of any other day. I  sat down on the sofa, puffed my cheeks out and exhaled deliberately. There was nothing to say really. It was just... just the way it was. Was this really what I would do forever? I hoped not but I couldn't see any way out of it; my training and qualifications only really allowed me to do work in a very particular area, and it wasn't one I savoured. That night, things changed. I flicked through the newspaper's job pages with the usual air of resignation and chanced upon an advert; 'Student Paramedic'. Hmmmm! I read on. It described a great opportunity where I could become a paramedic in just 3 years. All the training would be provided, I would be paid whilst training and it was a career that offered progression and a pension which was something my current job lacked. I applied on a whim not expecting to get an interview. To my surprise 4 months later I received a letter inviting me to an assessment day. To cut a long story short I was assessed, I went for an interview, I had a driving assessment and a medical, and got offered the job. I was made up! Could this be the job, the career, the life I had been looking for?!

Training began. It was a tough six months, a lot of home study, multiple exams and assessments and a large proportion of it was done without any knowledge of what it was like to work on an ambulance. It was a little scary to be honest; I was putting in all of this work with no real idea if I would truly like the job. Then I had my first placement. It was the first time I indeed entered the world of EMS. Dressed in my brand new uniform, polished boots, company branded rucksack and a hi-vis jacket you could eat your dinner off, I arrived for my first ever shift. Due to the fact I was at training school I was 'third manning'; there were three of us on the vehicle: a paramedic, a technician and me. It being my first day I was observing and helping out with obs etc. It was the first time I had done a 12 hour shift and 6am is not a good look on me. At 6:01am we got our first job. Sat in the back, looking through the bulkhead door as we drove through the dark streets, blue lights flickering off every window and road sign, sirens blaring, I was so excited! What a rush! I soon got to see what a Materni-taxi was but I didn't care! When you're new every job is a good job. I suppose I was just so happy to be there. The shift passed by very quickly. We saw a variety of patients; chest pains, drunks, an overdose, an elderly faller, a pyrexic baby. I remember every job from that day, none more so than our off job:

"64 year old male. DIB. COPD patient. On home o2"

It was about 4pm and already dark, it was raining and we were flying through the city streets with all the drama I had imagined; I was loving it! My neck was hurting from peering through to the front for the last 10 hours but I wasn't going to miss a second! We arrived at the address and all piled in. 

The first thing that hit me was the smell of stale smoke. Our patient was sat in his armchair, clearly in trouble. To this day I still haven't seen anyone so blue; not alive anyway. He was surrounded by empty bottles of vodka and it was a sad case of a life of excess laid out in front of me. He was given oxygen and my mentor's sense of urgency was evident. We got him onto the chair and out to the truck. We didn't hang around and before I knew it we were driving; and then I saw why we had been rushing. My mentor said, 'Shit, he's gone on us, start CPR', and so I did. I was very task focused and did what I was told. Whilst the ambulance was swinging from left to right I was doing a concoction of CPR and bagging. It was a surreal out of body experience. I remember it as if I am some fourth person, looking on at me working; I don't see it from my eyes. We arrived at hospital and wheeled the bed out onto the tail lift. There I was bouncing up and down on this guy's chest, being lowered on to the tarmac. We entered the hospital through its double doors. About 100ft away, at the end of the corridor, was resus. The doors to resus were open and inside were the awaiting crash team. We sped down the corridor towards them, continuing CPR as we went. My heart was pounding, shivers ran the length of my spine and I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. This moment was when I knew that EMS was my calling. This was what I had chosen to be. This was what I had chosen to do. This, I will remember for the rest of my life.

I soon found out that it isn't all like that, far from it. I quickly learnt that there are time-wasters, hoaxes, violence, vomit and abuse. Many of the people we go to don't need a hospital. We work long, arduous, unsociable hours, and get little or no thanks, and little or no breaks, but we take the bad with the good. There will always be that one job which makes everything worth it. 

I am left now cleaning vomit off a floor. Vomit from someone who drank too much. Vomit from someone who was rude to me. This is my calling and I love it!


  1. Another excellent post, I have nothing but huge admiration for all ambo crews (even the grumpy ones), can't help wondering how you find the strength. The night shifts and early starts are enough to put me off, I'm happy to be just a community first responder. I might not get paid but I still get the excitement (terror) of cardiac arrests and I don't have to clean vomit from the back of a truck! Keep up the good work, I think you are amazing, T

  2. Truly compelling read sweetie, your writing is fantastic and I can see exactly why you enjoy it and can't imagine doing anything else in spite of the abuse and rubbish you witness and receive, all exciting stuff! Keep doing what you do x


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