Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Practical Jokes

As ambos we were always trying to look at the funny side of life and often played practical jokes on each other. In some ways this was a great way to release the tension and stress that is associated with the job.

A humorous event occurred one night shift when one of the rebellious ambos at the Pitt St ambulance station thought it would be a laugh if they drove up the notorious Karangahape road and picked up a prostitute. The idea was to bring her back to the station to surprise the station officer whose birthday it was.

The trick backfired however when the girl they chose turned out to be an undercover Police officer! She didn’t see the funny side and reported them to the Ambulance management! They received some stern counselling but were let off without too much fuss.

When I first joined the service it became a running joke to pull all the linen out of the cupboards of another PTO’s vehicle while they were in the hospital picking up a patient. They would arrive back in the ambulance bay with their patient only to be greeted by an ambulance messily strewn with linen. The trouble was they always retaliated.

Another joke was to switch off the electrical isolation switch under the drivers seat and turn on everything such as lights, siren, wipers, heater etc. When the unsuspecting driver turned the isolation switch back on he got a mighty and noisy surprise. Needless to say this trick only worked once on the new staff.

Sometimes we would have a 50ml syringe full of water beside the driver’s door. The ambulances at the hospital ambulance loding bay were all parked parallel to each other, so as you were pulling out you would wind down your window and motion for the ambo in the vehicle next to you to wind theirs down because you wanted to speak with them. Instead of conversation though he would get 50mls of water squirted at him/her before the offenders co-worker made a fast getaway.

Another prank that backfired happened before I joined. There was a certain female ambulance officer that was well renown for using very colourful (sic) language while working with the male ambos.

As the ledgend goes, someone decided it would be an entertaining thing to tape the transmit button down on her portable radio, a device which wass located behind the drivers seat of every ambulance. Not only did this jam the channel open so no one could talk over it, but for the next hour the control room and everyone else heard in graphic details exactly what she really thought of them!

On one of my last shifts at one of the Metropolitan stations, I arrived about twenty- five minutes before my shift started and jumped into the shower to freshen up. When I stepped out of the bathroom my uniform and clothes were missing!! The buggers I was working with had hidden them.

Next thing the station alarm went off and they were calling out my vehicle for a priority one job! I suspected skulduggery and sure enough one of the other on-duty ambo’s had hidden my clothes and rang up the control room telling them to give me a fake job to make me panic. Admittedly they had me going for just a minute!

With over 200 staff working in the job, there were bound to be personality clashes amongst the crews. I knew of particular staff members, who if they were rostered on with certain people, they would simply call in sick so they didnt have to put up with them.

One ambo that ended up having some psyche problems and was eventually dismissed, was boycotted by everyone at his station and had to be moved to another station so people would work with him.

I only ever had an altercation with one other ambo in my career. I was fairly religious at the time and this chap had comparatively loose morals. I was speaking to one of the female control room operators whom I didn’t realise was actually going out with him at the time and in my ignorance I told her what I thought of his immoral stance, which she duly passed onto him.

Next time I saw him he naturally hassled me about this comment and generally gave me a really hard time. I figured that if I was ever to work with him in the future, which was highly likely, I had to be at least on speaking terms, so I simply, genuinely apologised for what I had said and he never mentioned it again. In fact I got on quite well with him after that.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Celebrity vistor

During my role as a PTS officer I often transferred cancer patients to the Oncology department for treatment. This was sometimes very disillusioning, particularly with seriously ridden terminal patients who were usually coherent and appeared normal on the first visit but would be lethargic, bald and drowsy by the third or fourth time we picked them up.

Often they ended up dying anyway despite the radio or chemotherapy. I felt sometimes that it was almost just a cruel treatment that was doomed to failure. To me it appeared to be a last ditch effort attempt which gave them false hope only to end up making them worse and killing them anyway.

I clearly remember the first ever terminally ill cancer patient I ever transported. It was back in my PTS days and I was still fairly new to the job. Fresh out of training I had been taught all these life saving skills but they forgot to tell me what to do with a terminally ill patient if they should die while being transported.

I was single crewed and so I loaded the patient feet first into the ambulance so I could keep a close eye on her while I was driving. She was being transported from her house to the St Josephs hospice at the Mercy hospital, presumably to die a peaceful and dignified death. Her adult children, who were visibly upset, accompanied her in the back of the ambulance. This was fine but they were hugging her all the way to hospital, which made it difficult for me to monitor her in the rear vision mirror.

It also presented a huge moral dilemma for me while I drove. She was clearly near death but what was I supposed to do if she stopped breathing en route?

With her children by her side I felt it would have been unethical for me not to carry out a resuscitation attempt but on the other hand I thought it would sound stupid calling backup to help resuscitate a clearly terminally ill patient.

Fortunately she stayed alive for the whole journey and a difficult decision was avoided. I sought council from my station officer afterwards to clarify what the correct procedure was.

As it turned out I was faced with similar scenarios many times again and I discovered the correct thing to do is simply to consult with the family at the time and provide conservative treatment until you either arrive at your destination or the family accepts that the inevitable has occurred. Death, while socially undesirable, becomes a stark reality in the world of medicine and our job was to make it as dignified as possible.

I also transported many dialysis patients in my first few years with the ambulance service.

These poor individuals suffered from kidney failure and would spend five or more hours being hooked up to a machine three or more times a week to detoxify their blood.

Some of the really chronic patients were amputees as well, a result of further complications from the condition. It always astounded me that such large machinery was required to replace the job of our relatively small kidneys that we have. I could also never really understand how the dialysis process worked and certainly never anticipated that one day I would be selling such equipment as I do today.

One thing was for sure though, working in the health industry sure made you appreciate and value your own health.

Another relatively common complaint I was called to was hypoglycaemic Type I diabetics. These patients were dependent on insulin injections to regulate their blood sugar levels and most commonly would not eat enough sugary food after injecting themselves.

One regular customer of ours was a young male diabetic who drove for a pavalova delivery company. I attended to him several times and in each scenario he would have a hypoglycaemic attack while driving his van load of pavalovas. Fortunately he had the foresight to pull over to the curb and stop before he became semi conscious but I could never understand why he didn’t just reach back and help himself to some pavalova. It probably would have fixed him every time!

There were a couple of older diabetics I attended who became extremely aggressive when they became hypoglycaemic. The brain like other organs needs sugar to function correctly. With hypoglycaemia, or low blood sugar, the brain doesn’t get enough glucose and so the patient becomes confused, irritable, drowsy and eventually unconscious.

If the patient is still conscious enough our first treatment was to give them some syrupy glucose to drink. Failing that we would inject them with a glucose solution into their vein or inject them with Glycogen shot intramuscularly which mobilised any sugar stored in the liver. Within ten or fifteen minutes they would return to normal and most of the time we would leave them in the care of relatives.

Other common medical complaints included heart attacks, chest pain, renal colic, abdominal pain, dehydration through vomiting and diahorrea and various breathing difficulties including asthma, hyperventilation and chronic obstructive airways disease (COAD).

As an Ambo we got to meet some important and famous New Zealanders but I would never have expected to have Michael Jackson walk into my ambulance.

I was working with another Ambo by the name of Claire and we were at the famous singers Auckland concert. We had our ambulance parked right near the stage and which gave us a fantastic view of the concert. In between dealing with minor patient complaints we enjoyed the music and show.

At the end of his routine the famous performer got into his Limo and started driving out of the concert. Suddenly the Limo stopped and he got out and walked along the road waving to his crazed fans. His path took him past the ambulance and suddenly he just walked inside!

Claire sat there speechless but I thought I cant get this close to him and not say something so I said welcome to our ambulance and shook his hand.

He was very friendly and chatted briefly to me before leaving and getting back to his Limo.

When he had left and the concert was finally finished we ended up transporting a young teenage female that was supposedly overcome by emotion. She admitted to me with great awe that Michael Jackson had looked straight at her during the concert and it had taken her breath away. I replied, “so what…he walked into our ambulance and I shook his hand!”