Now I’ve been qualified to crew an ambulance for more than a year, I’m able to go out and do shifts for the ambulance service. I’ve been hoping to do this for quite a while, but equally been a bit nervous, as I haven’t really got that much experience working in the back of an ambulance.
I’ve managed to get on three shifts so far, and to say they are have been eye-openers would be the understatement of the century. Aside from the tedium of quite a large amount of time waiting for things to do (apparently everyone had q word shifts those days…), I got to see a few things I would have seen as a volunteer at events.
Two particular patients stuck in my mind. I’ll be honest, I can’t remember their names, or their faces, but their stories, as I saw them, will remain with me for a long time.
One old lady. She had a stroke a couple of years ago, leaving her paralysed down one side, weak on the other, unable to speak beyond ‘yes’ and ‘no’, and bed bound. She needed round-the-clock care, had a catheter in-situ and was peg fed. She was going into hospital because she had developed a wheeze (which was not a good sign, as it could potentially be pneumonia).
She was obviously loved and cared for. Her daughters (not young themselves) spent a huge amount of time looking after her and making sure she was as healthy as they could manage.
Still, I can’t shake the feeling that this is no real quality of life. I can’t imagine being stuck in bed for the rest of my life, never to care for myself again, never even to speak properly again. Stuck in my head with no way of getting out. It’s certainly not something I’d wish on anyone.
My other patient was a 90-something year old man, the last job of the day. Living on his own, he had been highly active, right up until the last month or so. He had been experiencing complete lethargy, loss of appetite and a whole host of other generalised symptoms, and his doctor decided that he would need to go in to be checked over in the ward. In the past he had been diagnosed with some cancer or another, and his children feared this was a return of that condition.
Even getting him to the ambulance wore him out, and transferring him to the ward drained him so much he was practically asleep when he hit his bed.
My crew-mate and I made him comfortable, made sure he had everything he needed, handed over to the ward’s nurses, and then walked slowly back to the ambulance. The depression over us was almost palpable, and at almost the same moment we both said, “He’s not coming out again.”
Normally, I meet people who are generally healthy, and just need a little patching up to move on their way. Okay, I’ve seen the odd person with a serious medical condition, and the occasionally seriously injured patient, but almost everyone I had dealt with before had very good prognoses. On these two shifts, I saw what is likely to be the end times of their lives, something I will hopefully never have to see when delivering event cover. I just hope I was able to make what could have been one of their final journeys as comfortable as possible.