Sunday, 15 July 2012

24 - Part 3


The following takes place between 2am and 7am (ish)


"6 month old male, crying, difficulty in breathing"

The fatigue had well and truly kicked in. Unfortunately we had agreed to swap over half way through the shift so at my most tired, I was now behind the wheel of a 3.5 tonne ambulance. Awkward! Within 3 seconds of greening up for the next job, we got the next job! Off we went; the roads now were pretty empty, which although makes the drive easier,  means there are less distractions to keep you awake. I opened the window, turned the volume up and sat bolt upright whilst I drove. My eyes were fixed on the road ahead, but I could feel my rate of blinking increasing. Focusing became harder and my eyes were feeling so heavy. Pleased to still be in one piece, but with no memory of the journey, we pulled up outside a rather lavish property. 

Inside was our patient, crying. No difficulty in breathing, just crying. He had been crying for an hour apparently. He also had a cold. He had had calpol. He was just crying. It wasn't a teary crying, just a grouchy wimper. It was more the noise that I make when I'm awake and don't want to be or I'm hungry. Now I was driving, I didn't really have to talk to people, which was a good thing as I was suffering from 'grumpy driver syndrome'!
'Grumpy Driver Syndrome: A condition that effects the driver of an ambulance. Symptoms include increased irritability, decrease in levels of patience and overwhelming feelings that no patient deserves an ambulance. In severe cases the driver is best to be left well alone and avoid eye contact'
All that was going though my head was IT'S A BABY. IT CRIES. DEAL WITH IT AND DON'T CALL 999. Rules are rules though and all under 2's go to hospital. The dad followed us to hospital in the CAR! The car by the way, was a Porsche Cayenne. Why that is important, I don't know, it just added to my annoyance. The drive to hospital was no better than the journey to the job. My eyes were getting heavier and heavier, this was the most tired I had ever been. Not  a nice feeling.


"68 year old male, chest pain"

Having dropped the 'cryer' and the doting parents to A & E we sat there sipping the watered down Maxwell House hospital coffee. It wasn't pleasant but I needed caffeine to snap me out of the 3am lull. I even took some ProPlus in the hope I'd get some energy. Nope. Not a chance. In the 7 minutes spare we had, I dozed off, woken only by the screeching of the MDT sending us off on yet another magical mystery tour. My eyes were bloodshot and the thought of having to drive 3.4 miles filled me with dread. Yet again, we made it! I think the concentration I was having to use to stay awake was making me more tired, but I had no choice. At least we were greeted by the sight of an FRU as we pulled into the road. We headed in, I was a good 4 or 5 steps behind as I didn't have the energy to lift my weary feet off the floor. 

What I didn't need was that smell of urine again. It hit me as I walked through the door and I gagged. The patient was in the kitchen chatting away to the FRU. He was basically a lonely old man and just wanted someone to talk to. He was complaining of a 6 month history of intermittent chest pain but 3am seemed like the pefect time to call us. If it was 2pm and I was attending I would have been full of the joys of spring. I love talking to old people and listening to their stories but now, at 03:31, all I could think about was a) how tired I was and b) how the hell I was going to wake up enough to drive to hospital. We were on scene for ages, the guy kept changing his mind about whether or not to go and once it was decided he was going, there was the task of collecting everything he wanted to take with him. I sat in the front, starring through the windscreen watching the first rays of light fill the air, waiting to be told that my crew mate was ready to go.


"Ready when you are!"

Off we went. This 2 mile drive would bother me for hours and days to come. It made me evaluate what exactly I was doing. Was all this worth it? Was this the job for me? As I drove I could feel my eyes shutting. I was fighting it so hard. I started hallucinating; seeing buses and lorries that were not there, seeing things that would make me brake but when I re-focused they were nowhere to be seen. It terrified me, but what could I do? Call control and say, 'sorry I'm too tired for this'. Would this count as going off sick? Would I be reprimanded for it? Probably. If I had a crash it would be my fault. Yes! I am the driver, it is my responsibility. It doesn't matter if I have been awake for almost 22 hours. It doesn't matter that I have been working 9 and a half hours without a break. That's the job. Isn't it? Maybe if the advert had read:
'Work up to 80 hours a week on a night heavy, debilitating shift pattern with no rest breaks & late finishes which causes you physical and mental ill heath, crippling insomnia and fatigue beyond your wildest dreams for less money than a bin man. On successful completion of your training you will be rewarded with a divorce and have no relationships with anyone outside of work and no social life. You'll ferry people around while getting verbally abused, kicked, punched and spat at. Not allowed to go off sick.'
I would have thought twice about it. Please please please remind me why I love my job?!

We got to hospital and I headed straight for the toilet, I splashed cold water on my face and then drank 2 more cups of coffee. By the time I emerged back outside it was light again. I could feel the glaze over my eyes. One more job. One more job. One more job. The finish line was in sight!


"45 year old female, kidney pain"

Luckily the address given was only half a mile away. Even I could do that drive without too much hassle. We pulled onto the estate and hunted for the block. Unsurprisingly it was the only block without the block name on it and we only found it by matters of deduction. Inside was our patient, lying on the sofa, 6 or 7 family members flocking around her. She didn't speak any english. 

"What's the problem?"

"She has bad pain in her kidneys" her son replied. 

"How long for?"

"3 days"

"Has she seen the GP?"


"Has she taken any pain killers?"


The questioning continued like this for a few minutes. I did her OB's while my crew mate played the translation game. Basically, in summation, she had been ill for a few days, not done anything about it and now her first port of call was an ambulance. We would play taxi and take her to hospital where she would be given antibiotics and sent back home. And that is exactly what we did. 


Having arrived at hospital and handed over the patient we now had 27 minutes to wait until we could go back to station. As we hadn't been given a break, we basically take it at the end of our shift and leave 'early'. I cleaned up the back of the ambulance, got all the bags ready at the back door and then waited until 06:30 and drove back.


Having battled through the rush hour traffic we made it back on station. I was slightly more awake but not much. My crew mate drove back for me as I didn't feel safe to do so. I signed the drugs back in, put my stuff back in my locker and signed out at 07:15. 45 minutes late off.


Clamber into bed. Another day, another dollar; done.

OK, so that was a random day as it happened. I still had 4 more night shifts to come. As a member of the public, how happy would you be knowing that I could have been driving your loved one at 4am? I wouldn't be happy but what would you suggest? I am not alone, every single night there are crews fighting fatigue and exhaustion and they do so under the guise of 'it's the job'. The fatigue aside, this shift highlighted so many problems this country has. It showed the uphill battle the NHS is facing and the consequences the cuts are having. We go from patient to patient all night, forget and move onto the next. We move from one problem to the other having just passed it on to someone else. If I hadn't written down every job I had done, by the time I had woken up the following morning I would have forgotten most of the people I had met and most of the problems I came across. Even writing this now, I can't recall any of their names, not even the mother of the dead baby I held at 19:00. I bet that as you are reading this now, you had forgotten about that too.


  1. This is so true- great blog. I often find myself fighting to keep my eyes open at 3am!
    Is there any reason you can't leave an under 2 at home?

    1. It's the services policy here. Obviously you can't kidnap but they must be taken if parents agree to come!

    2. In the welsh ambulance service ALL children must be conveyed, irrespective of the presenting complaint.

  2. I bet that as you are reading this now, you had forgotten about that too.

    Yes, sadly I had.

    Please please please remind me why I love my job?!

    You help people who, in 'their' (and often yours) heads are at their most vulnerable point and need an expert who can help them.

    My wife is a prison officer and she works night shifts every now and again and I see the look in her eyes after travelling the 1hour journey home each morning and know that it's a game of numbers in counting them down.

    She, like you, takes the job seriously and patient or prisoner people are still people and there will be those who take the piss, and there will be those who genuinely need someone to take control and help them.

    The young mother of the baby, and the elderly gentleman were genuine people having the worst experience of their life and you were the one who helped them.

    Sadly, on the other side, there were evidently some complete time wasters that I guess you build a resistance to in the end (in a non night shift, non full steam, non break day) that you can glaze over and not let it bother you too much.

    Ella, I keep saying it and I'll say it again; the work you guys do is unbelievable and I am continually grateful for the technology enabling these stories and feelings to be explored on a blog and twitter.

    Keep up the good job, I'm pretty sure in "your" heaven they'll have a snooze button on the MDT and it will be for you to press :)

    Sleep well.


    1. Thank you! Lovely comment! I know why I do the job, it's often easy though to lose sight of it!

  3. There are strict laws for profeesional drivers but it doesn.t seem to apply in your situation. What a fantastic job you do.

    1. Because we are not employed as drivers and are not driving constantly the driving laws don't apply!

  4. I had remembered the young mum and the 'not viable' :( but thank you for being their for the 3 of them, surely it isn't rocket science for when a council grants planning permission for an estate for them to send maps of the new build to the Ambulance, Fire, & Police? *Shakes head* I'm not sure who was the worse idiot the obnoxious man whose wife had gone by herself in a taxi, the workshy dude, or the woman & family that don't go to the GP when ill for days.

    I also can't see why ambo manglement can't get a grip and make sure you all get an hour break midway so you can decompress, nap, get a hot meal that might keep you going safely through the night.

    God bless you for the good that you do for the deserving and the undeserving, and keep you safe in your works.


  5. An hours break!? Haaahahaha
    Ella another brilliant blog. I do the same work day in day out as what you write about and that in itself is a sad fact: the fact I recognise half the jobs you describe; the ill for 3 days but no GP or pain relief, the waste of time patient who made ther own way; it's all daily occurances, sometimes 2 or 3 times a shift. But; sometime you'll goto a job where your presence is the saving grace for that patient or relative. It's the worst day on earth and our calm collected thoughts and actions are what keeps them on the right track and guides them in the right direction.

    Remember those that truly need us when your having a bad day.

    Take care

    1. Haha! Yes! As if that would ever happen lol!!

  6. Excellent blog. Why we love our job ? Because that 1 time in a shift/week/month when we genuinely make a difference. Loved the grumpy driver syndrome. Will be copying that & placing on Stn wall. Keep up the great blogging it helps to remind me why I love the job

  7. Another great blog Ella! Love the 24 hours format. Really interesting! Xx

  8. Ella, really enjoyed the Highs And lows of your shift. I say high loosely. I did 13 yrs in and it's tough, bloody tough. But the genuine ones ( few I know) make it worth it. Keep up the fab work and humorous blog

  9. Love it

    Totally think the ambulance service need to remember their vehicles don't have auto pilot - they are run by humans

    This post reminds mr of the Honda advert "without heart we are merely machines"

  10. Hello again I've been following your blog for a while whilst the name has changed I understand your plight. From someone who used to write an eggtastic blog you have reinvigourated me to restart. People need to understand the pressures that ambulance folk are under. Your job description part is the reality of the job. And the 24 hours format is true of most personell.

  11. What an absolutely wonderful blog. beautifully written and so eye opening. I don't know how you do what you do every day.


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