Sunday, August 27, 2006

Keeping Fit

A large part of our work involved taking patients to the many daily clinics at the hospital. Auckland hospital decided they could get better value for money than utilising ambulances for this workload and the contract for these services was awarded to a taxi company!

We suddenly found ourselves extremely short of work. For a few weeks we were all parked in the ambulance bay at the major city hospital waiting around for jobs. The management decided there was simply not enough work left to continue the Patient Transport Service, which was abandoned, and we were thankfully integrated into the mainstream service.

Being part of the emergency side of the service was more much exciting and challenging.

The other Ambulance Officers I worked with came from every walk of life. Some had been medics in the armed services, some were nurses but most had no medical backgrounds at all. There were tradesman, a lawyer, a few from the Police force and people from just about every other job out there.

The uniqueness of the job and type of work formed a very strong comradre amongst the staff and the senior staff were generally very well respected by the junior staff.

When I first joined the service it still had a military feel about it. Senior Operation Officers were addressed as ‘Sir’ or ‘Mam’. Staff were expected to be well groomed with polished shoes and vehicles were expected to be kept clean, tidy and well presented at all times.

There were even regulations on what linen was to be laid on the stretcher. The ‘corporate linen,’ as it was referred to, consisted of two neatly folded blankets, a folded draw sheet, a towel and a pillow, tidily arranged on each stretcher in a set pattern.

It was forbidden to drive with your elbow partially leaning out the window and at one stage we even received a directive not to use please or thank you during our radio telephone conversations.

Each station had four ranked staff. There were three station officers and one senior station officer who was responsible for the overall running of the staff and station. They were mostly advanced paramedics and well respected since they were also responsible for handing out discipline.

As time went on these regulations softened and it became a more relaxed place to work although I felt some of the professional image was lost in this transition.

When I first started with the service there were almost two hundred ambulance officers scattered throughout the eight metropolitan and five rural stations.

As a new staff member, particularly as a male one, it took some time before you got to know many of the staff. Even just being with them on station did not guarantee that you got to know them. It wasn’t until you actually worked with them as a pair that you got to know who they were, their background, past work history and they got to know you and yours.

For many of the older staff, especially, you had to earn their respect and almost prove yourself before they would warm to you.

I was fortunate that I managed to fast-track this process by playing for the Auckland Ambulance Rugby team thanks to the organiser and captain Boycee.

We only ever played about five games a year but thanks to Tony and some corporate sponsorship we had our own rugby jerseys and played on the little used rugby grounds at the Ford motor company in Manukau.

Our opposition teams were usually from the Fire Service, Ministry of Transport, Police, Referees association and even other Ambulance services.

The games were a lot of fun but also quite competitive. There was always some friendly badgering between the teams and even the typical punch-ups that seemed innate with the sport.

One time when we were playing a neighbouring ambulance service in Auckland, the referee walked off the game because he said it was too rough for a so called friendly game.

Since the players in our team were from all the different stations I got to know and respect a lot of the older ambulance staff and found a strong comradre amongst them. This of course also translated into the job.

Although I hadn’t been particularly sporty in my earlier years I now really enoyed team sports and while working for the service I also played in the touch rugby team and arranged a basketball team and indoor volleyball team as well. The trouble was trying to get regular players amongst shift workers but it was still fun nevertheless.

One year I also ran with an ambulance team in the Keri Keri half marathon and in the Around Lake Taupo relay run.

These were both fantastic events as we were allowed to take an ambulance PTS van as transport and had an ambulance social club t-shirt as part of the team. They also helped to build comradre as well as keep us fit.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Run Over by an Incubator!

Our work as PTO’s was quite varied and involved transferring patients either to or from hospital or between hospitals. Some patients were post stroke victims and were wheel chair bound. It wasn’t easy loading these patients into the ambulance by ourselves but we managed most of the time. You become quite resourceful and our portable wheelchair got a lot of use!

Sometimes there would be two stretcher patients and a transit care nurse. Other times we would take a vanload of mobile and semi-mobile patients. Occasionally we would take patients to other provincial cities 1-3 hours drive away. I once even drove a patient all the way to Whakatane which was a 10.5 hours round trip.

Other jobs involved taking sick babies in incubators to the airport. This was always hard work as the incubators weighed a ton but we got to drive directly onto the tarmac beside the plane so due to my fascination with airplanes I never minded.

One time I was injured by an incubator that I had to transport from one hospital to another. I was walking in front pulling the heavy incubator with a staff nurse pushing it from behind as we travelled along the corridor of one of the main hospitals.

As we approached a corner she missed the cue and didnt slow down. Unfortunately I did and the bottom chassis rail of the incubator caught my heel as I walked in front of it. The entire weight of the incubator rode up on my heel carving a deep chunk out of it.

It hurt like hell at the time but I carried on with the job and transported the patient and escort to the next hospital.

After unloading the patient I checked my heel and found it a bloody mess. My sock was sodden with blood and a nice haematoma had formed around the chunk of lifted skin.

I ended up going to the ER where a sympathetic nurse dressed and bandaged it. I was the first (and probably only) ambulance officer ever to be run over by an incubator! It was kinda embarressing so I just carried on for the rest of the day and didnt mention it to anyone.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

First Priority one job

My first PTS job was to pick up a patient from the Artificial Limb Centre (ALC) in Mt Eden. We received the job over the RT from a dispatcher by the name of Ray.

Ray had served many years with the ambulance service and was a real legend amongst the troops. He was once awarded a medal for bravery when he risked his life to get to a shot policeman during an armed offender callout. That was in the days before there was a Police SWAT team . He had seen it all and had the foresight to finish his time off in the service sitting in a cushy chair in the control room.

This old timer still had an extremely sharp mind and knew where all the ambulances were at any one time without having to use the computer. Not an easy task when you are juggling forty or more vehicles all over city.

Our induction training didnt include being shown where any of the clinical departments were located around the city, so when we got the job we had to search through the map books and then a phone book to find our way there. We didnt want to sound ignorant over the radio asking for directions or the clinic location and he certainly wasnt offering any. Eventually we got there and completed the transfer.

As New Zealand largest, Auckland City can be very daunting to most people visiting or even living there, yet we were expected to just know our way around all of it. It was a sharp learning curve for new recruits, especially for people like myself who had lived outside of Auckland. It wasnt uncommon for new staff to get completely lost or end up going the wrong way.

Our jobs were dispatched over the radio as either Code 1 (non urgent) or Code 2 (urgent) the later meaning you could respond under lights and siren. Code 2 jobs provided the high profile adrenaline rush we always hoped for but the majority of the work was code 1.

Navigating your way through city traffic and going against red traffic lights was dangerous stuff but also a lot of fun. I clearly remember my first ever Code two job.

I was at the old Pitt St ambulance station having my lunch break. By now I was single crewed and the other vehicles were all out on jobs. Suddenly the station alarm sounded indicating there was a code two job. I was confused at first, as I was the only vehicle on station and thought the job couldn’t possibly be for me, a PTS vehicle. I answered the beeping radio-telephone (RT) in my vehicle (which indicated the control room had paged me) and was given the job over the air.

"A-11 your time out is 1228, code 2 to an R3 (aircraft crash alert) at Auckland International Airport, George Bolt Drive Drive, Mangere, job number 56"

I was one of a number of vehicles to respond to an International flight that was landing with a problem. I was so excited about the job I let out a yelp of excitement and quickly looked up the best way to get there.

I knew I could go via the motorway and exit at Mt Wellington then go through Otahuhu and Mangere. I didn’t know if this was the quickest way but it was the only route I knew without having to refer to the map book so I figured it was the safest bet.

I started the vehicle up and selected drive on the automatic transmission. Headlights switched on full beam. Beacons on. Siren on. I accelerated the Bedford Ambulance out of the station and into the throng of Pitt street traffic.

My heart was racing as I manoeuvred the high profile vehicle through the stationery cars up Pitt St and left onto an even busier Karangahape Road, then onto the motorway. Siren whaling, air horn blaring, traffic pulling over. It was a mixture of elation and panic but I loved every moment.

In those days the traffic police department was separate from the regular Police force and run by the Ministry of Transport (M.O.T). As I exited the Motorway at Mt Wellington and approached Mangere Rd I was astounded to see a Traffic officer at each intersection holding up the traffic and waving me through. It made me feel awfully important. I never experienced this VIP treatment by the MOT during an R3 again so it was quite a novelty.

Turning into George Bolt Memorial drive I was suddenly called up by the control room. Apparently the plane had landed safely and I was to stand down and head for the Matai Rd station to complete my lunch break. Although not getting to the airport was a letdown I was still beaming from my first code 2 for the rest of the day.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Joining the ranks

At the end of my apprenticeship an advert appeared in the NZ Herald for Patient Transport Officers (PTO’s)with the Auckland Ambulance Service. This job involved driving a single crewed ambulance, picking up and delivering the non-urgent and routine clinic patients from their homes to hospitals or delivering patients between hospitals.

I applied for the position and was asked to attend an interview with the Personnel manager and a Senior Operations Officer (SOO). They asked the routine questions - why I wanted to join, what I had to offer, how would I deal with shift work etc. I bluffed my way through as best I could.

I also had to attend a medical examination with the GP who was associated with the service at the time. This was the most thorough examination I had ever had but I was fit so didnt worry about it.

I passed the thorough medical and to my overwhelming joy was successful in being one of the few ‘chosen ones’ that were taken from the hundreds of applicants.

After resigning from my position at NZ Steel I turned up for work on my first day which was to be a very exciting and challenging new career.

I can still clearly picture my first day at the Auckland training centre. We had already been issued our uniforms which consisted of six white shirts, two ties, one pair of epaulettes, one jersey, two pairs of trousers, one raincoat, one reflective jerkin, one pair of waterproof trousers and a pouch containing scissors, clamp and pupil torch. We also got given a personal first response kit in the form of a white metal toolbox, which was crammed full of first aid gear and was affectionately known as our 'buddie'.

Receiving all this brand new uniform and equipment was overwhelming because as a volunteer I had to beg or borrow used items to kit myself out properly. In comparison it felt like all my Christmas’s had come and once and I was buzzing on a high when I picked it all up.

It was a Monday morning and eleven recruits in their crisp new uniforms were sitting in the classroom elated to finally be paid to do a job of their dreams.

After our training officer Rob had introduced himself, we took turns at explaining who we were and where we had come from. There were nine of us employed as PTO’s and three employed as Communication officers for the Regional Communications centre (RCC).

Our backgrounds were varied and included people from all walks of life including a Payroll clerk, Police officer, Navy medic, funeral director, Courier driver, Lab technician and of course myself as a sparky.

My trade as a Sparky appealed to Rob who happened to require some house wiring so I immediately started on a good footing and got to know and respect him early on in the job.

The induction lasted two weeks and was a combination of re-doing the Basic Ambulance Aid course, learning about the dreaded paperwork and administrative procedures, familiarising ourselves with the ambulance vehicles and stretchers, some defensive driving skills and some time in the control room. We also spent two days on an emergency ambulance vehicle riding 3rd person up.

Most of the administration information I was taught went in one ear and out the other. The medical content however was of great interest to me and for once in my life I excelled at what was being taught.

I earned a name for myself by being the one who asked all the questions over and over until I understood what was being taught. This was a new thing for me as in school I was always too shy to ask anything.

In this instance however, I decided that people’s lives may literally depend on what I learnt, so I had better understand everything in order to do the job properly. My perseverance paid off and was reflected in my high grades that I achieved in the exams we had to sit.

Finally, after graduating we were thrust out onto the street to different stations as new rookies. PTO’s were a new concept in the service but we were certainly welcomed by the existing full time staff. Our job would be to carry out the not-so-exciting, non-urgent work of ferrying around patients all over Auckland. This freed the other ambulances up to attend mainly urgent jobs, which often involved racing to scenes with lights and siren. In effect they would be doing more of this at our expense so in hindsight it was no wonder they were pleased to see us.

For some reason there was a delay in the processing of my ambulance ‘E’ drivers license which in those days was required to be able to drive an ambulance. For this reason I was double crewed with Gary, another recruit, during my first few days. This was actually quite advantageous to us as it meant we could load stretcher patients easier and had a lot more fun getting lost together.