Some years ago I was stopped on an apparently open road by a policeman standing in front of an unattended ambulance. My curiosity, and perhaps my slight irritation about why I couldn’t continue with my journey, was soon answered. A trolley appeared from around a bend in the road where four or five various paramedics, doctors and other first responders carefully wheeled a patient along the road. As I was forced, for a few minutes, to watch this slice of real life drama they took meticulous care as they loaded the whole lot, patient, drips and all that medical stuff into the ambulance and closed the doors. Soon I was free to continue on my journey but not before I was finding myself having to wipe a tear from my eye.
I do cry a bit at old movies, those episodes of TV programmes that have applied a specific formula to elicit an emotional response, I’ve even been known to blub at a well written episode of Star Trek so long as all the emotional levers have been pulled. For a while it seems they were employing some experienced writers on that show, or at least writers who knew the formula.
My guess, with the person on the stretcher, is that I was triggered by the number of people involved in the incident. Had it just been a paramedic or two I might not have blubbed so. But they were clearly prepared to go to whatever lengths were necessary to save this person. All that attention for one person unknown by all these people.
It’s a good job I wasn’t around earlier in the year when a friend fell over in her loft or there might have been waterworks. Apparently she fainted and a loft is not a good place to faint, what with the potential for uneven floors, randomly placed objects, other injurious odds and ends, etc. The report on Facebook, along with photos of the event, described how she was suspected to have a spinal injury or at least the potential for one. The emergency services came out and a drama ensued. She was placed on a stretcher or an ironing board or one of those mechanical immobilisation platforms or something. However, getting her out of the loft was not going to be easy. In the end they decided to take her out through the skylight.
From the story I heard this involved removing the loft window, then utilising one of those special fire engines that has an extending platform able to reach high up or far across a garden. (I think I had a toy version as a kid but imagined they only had these for real in America.) It seems they placed the platform at the window and, I guess, passed her through. That’s about all I know as I wasn’t there and I don’t like to pry. The Facebook post tells how there were two teams of fire brigade, paramedics, all sorts of support people, someone to turn off the electricity in the street, etc. It seems long reach fire engines and overhead power cables don’t play well together, who’d have thought, eh?
The post on Facebook, along with the pictures of the street full of neighbours, told that she was okay in the end and was home that night but they didn’t take a chance; all this was done just in case. If you ever want to know where your tax dollars go, then ask not for whom the ambulance siren wails, it wails for you; but only if we keep paying our taxes.
Back during the depths of lockdown, when we were not supposed to be going out, I had an emergency of my own. At the peak of the plague of our time I started to feel ill despite not having gone out of the house for weeks. (I’m one of those people being shielded on medical grounds so everything is delivered.) The symptoms were not obviously Covid-19; instead, around Easter I started to experience abdominal pains and other symptoms that I’m too polite to describe. Apparently there are variations of covid-19 that attack other parts of the body and intestinal covid-19 is one of them.
However, A few days later, when my carbon monoxide alarm went off, it became clear that it wasn’t the plague and that my elderly cooker was to blame. To cut a long story short it was caused by increased use of my cooker due to the meal kits I’ve been using, lack of ventilation during a cold snap and prolonged time indoors; oh, that and a grilled aubergine.
The result was that, when I phoned the NHS the next day, they said normally they would ask me to go to hospital for a carbon monoxide check-up but, being shielded, they preferred me not to do so. Instead they would send out an ambulance to check me out; as it turned out they sent two.
The first ambulance was the one with the two nice paramedics who wouldn’t come into my house lest they bring the plague inside. Instead they invited me out to sit in the ambulance where they covered me in wires and probes and made one of those paper traces of my heart beat, and measured my blood pressure and oxygen level. My they went to a lot of trouble. Of course I was feeling fine as the aubergine incident had been the night before and, since I found my symptoms matched those of carbon monoxide on the NHS website, I’d opened all the windows.
The second ambulance was the exciting one, although I didn’t get to sit inside which was a slight disappointment. This was the imaginatively named Hazardous Area Response Team or HART. (I guess someone got a pat on the back for thinking that one up.) This is a special ambulance with a crew trained to work in what the web site describes as the ‘hot zone’. It seems before the existence of HART, when an emergency took place in a hazardous area such as chemical, biological, nuclear, etc. (no really, I kid you not), patients had to be brought to the outer perimeter where it was safe for medical personnel without special training or equipment. That meant treatment was delayed and outcomes were not as good as if the patient were treated sooner. Instead the HARTeam are able to go into the hot zone which might be somewhere high up, in confined spaces, on water or in that chemical, biological or nuclear zone. Working along-side the rest of the emergency services these guys are the Thunderbirds.
The point of HART turning up in my street was that the standard ambulance doesn’t have the ability to test for carbon monoxide in your blood stream. However, you can imagine that in the hot zone, amid all the smoke, confined spaces or alien invasions (wait, what?), those are the sorts of places where they would need to test for carbon monoxide. Therefore the HARTeam has the gadget.
It turned out that the carbon monoxide gadget was the size of a pocket calculator with a lead and a thing that fits on your finger a bit like the thing that measures your oxygen level. Again a lot of trouble to go to for such a small gadget but, yes, I was poisoned with carbon monoxide and no it wasn’t bad, only as much as a heavy smoker might have. The night before, in the middle of the aubergine incident, the level would have been higher.
So what’s the moral of this story? I’m not entirely sure apart from telling you a lot of stories about ambulances. I was rather excited to be given the long strip of paper with my heart trace on it with lots of numbers I don’t understand. I was fascinated to learn that we have a specialist service for hot zone treatment and people prepared to deal with the consequences (alien invasions notwithstanding). Most of all I learned that we really are all in this together and, when the shit hits the fan or when the aubergine strikes, there are all sorts of people who will come out of the woodwork to try to help out. We are a community species, as we are all discovering with the plague of our time, and it’s only by cooperation and support that we survive.
Please try not to vote conservative next time.