It’s the end of the world, the zombie apocalypse. BigCity is full of zombies and people trying to get past them to safety. And what am I doing during at the end of the world as we know it? I’m sat astride my response bike, watching it all happen.
This is 2.8 Hours Later, and the aim of the game is to get from check point to check point without being caught by the zombies. We’re providing first aid cover, ready and waiting for the inevitable slips, trips, falls, and out right head on collisions. Needless to say, the event is hilarious to watch, and it appears the players are loving it as well.
We get a patient, one of the zombies. We ask the typical questions, get a medical history (‘so how long have you been dead?’), all while keeping an eye open for the next batch of players to sprint down the high street. In the corner of the square, a busker is setting up his guitar and amp, another person going about his business while the world ends around him.
We here the next group running, so we cyclists dodge out of sight, while our zombie friend lurches to hide in a phone box. The running steps slow and stop, and we can just see the group looking down at their map to work out where to go next. They wonder down the high street, paying far too much attention to the piece of paper in their hands, and not their surroundings.
A groan, a blur of speed from the zombie, and then screams as the group scatters, desperately keeping out of his reach. The whole group races past where CycleGuy and I are hiding, barely missing the posts we’re propped up behind, intent only on avoiding the zombie on their collective tails.
And in the background, music drifts over from the corner…
You are not well. In fact, it’s safe to say you are very unwell.
We are on both in the road, me sat, you lying, with my bike stood in a fend of position, blue lights beaming out a warning to all around. This is not a fun place to stay, but I’ve got no choice. You have just finished fitting for the second time in ten minutes, and I have no way of getting you somewhere safe without injuring one of us.
The person who flagged me down has wandered off, muttering something about leaving it to the professionals. This is a nuisance, as I could really do with another pair of hands. I have a coat under your head, a blanket draped over the rest of you (now you won’t strangle yourself with it), and my radio microphone in my hand. This is the bit I really want. Two fits in a row is not a great sign, and my instincts say your going to do it again. Somewhere on the way down you seem to have bashed your head, you have road rash on your bare legs and arms (it had been a hot day, a lovely time to go to the beach), and I haven’t even attempted to check you for anything else between fits. I really need help, and I really need it now.
The problem is, there’s nothing available. We have over half our local fleet on the road, and every one of them is busy. It’s so busy I can’t even start talking on the radio to give Control an update (and to try to get an ETA on that vehicle).
A gap forms in the radio chatter, and I draw a breath to start talking. Naturally, this is the moment you begin to fit again. Immediately the mic is dropped, the blanket is whipped away, and I check your head is still safe. Grabbing the mic on its upswing, I cut in on a pause in the current conversation.
“Priority, priority, Control 992.” I release the mic to hear someone talking over me. Blast. Keeping both eyes on my shaking patient, I try again. “Priority, priority, Control 992”
“All stations, wait. Priority call. Go ahead 992.”
“Control, upgrade my ambulance request to emergency. Patient unresponsive, actively convulsing, query status epilepticus.” I technically haven’t been on scene long enough to make that judgement, but every instinct I have says that these fits aren’t going to go away on their own.
“All received 992. Be advised, NHS vehicle en route. Please confirm precise location.” I give a little prayer to any passing deity, thanking them for shared ambulance control rooms.
“Location unchanged. Bike in fend off location, you can’t miss me.”
“All received 992. Control out.”
The radio conversation that had been going on before continued, and I mentally switched off to the radio, listening only for my call-sign. Once more you’ve stopped fitting, and once more I cover you with my blanket, pouring reassurances over you that you are safe and that help is on its way. I don’t know if you can hear me through the chaos the fits have reigned in your brain, but if nothing else it makes me feel better to do something.
In the distance I hear a siren. I’ve heard a few going to and fro, but this one is definitely getting nearer. It is the most welcome noise I’ve heard all evening, well, after the heavy sighs coming from you when I checked your breathing. The junction down the road fills with the glow of blue lights, and an RRV comes around the corner. Getting down close to you, to check your obs one more time, I speak to both myself and you. “This one’s yours, mate. The cavalry’s here.”
A collage of a couple of my recent patients, inspired by the WordPress Weekly Writing Challenge: The Sound of Blogging.
I have worked hard to achieve my role of cycle responder. The course isn’t particularly difficult, but keeping in mind most people have done no training at all, it holds you to a particularly high standard. It also has a particular focus on working in crowds of people safely (you should see some of the maneuvers we’re expected to pull off). Just like anyone else operating an emergency vehicle, we’re supposed to be good at what we do.
Now, I freely admit that there are some idiots on bikes wandering around. This is an unfortunate side effect of the lack of licensing of bicycles. Not that I advocate such a license: we need to encourage people to cycle, not make it difficult for them. (Before anyone interjects that a driving license isn’t difficult to get, I’ll point out that, at 23, I am still unable to drive a car due to the financial investment driving lessons require.) Proper planning, a bit of common courtesy amongst road users and decent provision of dedicated cycle ways should help keep these few idiots safe and out-of-the-way, keeping all parties safe.
We, on the other hand, are response cyclists. We are not just cycling as a means to get to work, or to the shops. Our role has two main parts, in order of importance (in my opinion):
- Responding to calls for assistance from the public, other first aiders and the ambulance service
- Patrolling an event, forming a highly visible first aid presence that can be flagged down when needed
To a lesser degree, we also make good a good advert for the Organisation, as we are very visible and something people don’t see every day. (This is something I think we should capitalise on more…)
Now it is fairly obvious that most of our patients will be found in areas where there are most people, and so it is almost inevitable that we mainly respond to places where there is a crowd. This isn’t even allowing for the fact that crowds invariably form around patients. Given that many of our patients are reported as being quite unwell, this means that we will need to respond fast through said crowds. The most effective way of progressing quickly through a crowd is to make a lot of noise, encourage people to move out of our way (whether with noise makers, voices, “blues and twos” or whatever) and pass through the gaps that naturally form in such groups. It is exactly the same technique as walking quickly through a crowd (which most people can do without thinking), but at higher speeds and with bigger turning circles. It’s not perfect (it doesn’t work in very dense crowds) but it still usually gets us on scene faster than a foot patrol (we can take advantage of larger gaps to put on decent bursts of speed) or an ambulance (which can’t exactly dodge and weave in the ways we can). Sometimes it’s only a minute or so faster, but when someone is very unwell, every minute counts.
Unfortunately, to make it work, sometimes we have to cut things fine. Sometimes I will pass someone by inches then swerve suddenly in front of them to swing through another gap. I try to make myself known to everyone, but sometimes I’ll catch people by surprise. This doesn’t (and I say this with feeling) mean that I’ve nearly hit you. Believe me, if 45 kg of bike plus 60 kg of rider nearly hit you, you’d know. In fact, the first thing you’d know of it would be the screech of brakes as I come to a halt behind you. Because, just like that emergency vehicle going down the road, I never go so fast I can’t stop if I need to. I have a lot of momentum, but very good brakes and plenty of practice emergency stopping. I’ll say it again, because I mean it: I am not going to hit you (well unless you decide to jump in front of me at the last-minute, and that, I’m afraid, would be your fault).
On the other hand, when I’m on a patrol, I’m not in a hurry. In fact, I’m particularly keen to save energy for the times when I really need it. This means I’m going to move slowly. Of cause, all velocity is relative, and slow for a cyclists doesn’t always mean the same thing as slow for a pedestrian. Sometimes the crowd sprawled across my patrol path decides they want to dawdle down the street, taking in the sights. And why not? After all, most of the time they are on a day out, and who wants to rush around on a day out.
This makes cycling patrols a very different activity to normal cycling. On a clear road, we’ll move at roughly normal to slow cycling speeds, stopping sometimes to take in the sights ourselves (everyone loves a bit of people watching). Then we hit that dense bit of dawdling crowd, and so we slow down, down to the speed of the crowd. This takes practice; a bike are very difficult to control at such speeds, particularly given the weight of our bikes. That is precisely why we spend so much time on cone skills and low-speed maneuvering.
Once we’re down to the speed of a dawdle, we can quite happily sit there indefinitely. We’re happy to wait until the crowd disperses, a gap in the crowd forms naturally, or we have a reason to speed up (usually a job from control). Of cause, if people move aside to let us through (which happens fairly often once people notice us), we do appreciate it, and we’ll pop through any gap that forms (naturally or otherwise) to move from behind a crowd if the timing is right. We know that sitting behind people makes them uncomfortable. That said, if that’s where we have to stay, so be it. We’ll wait.
Yet again, and I say this with more feeling this time, you are NOT going to get run over. If we have to stop, we will, no problems, no arguments.
People often mention that we should get off and walk when we’re doing this, often adding that they think we’ll get through faster. There are a couple of problems with that argument.
First, while we are riding our bikes, they are surprisingly manoeuvrable and easy to handle. These bikes are HEAVY (have I mentioned this enough yet…) and being able to use your body weight to balance them is extremely useful. As soon as I get off my bike, I exchange 45 kg of well-balanced bicycle for 45 kg of unstable dead weight. More than once I have lost my bike when I have had to get off and push, and when those bikes go, they go big style. I am much more likely to drop that bike on your (and my) shins when I push it than I am to run you over or collide with you while cycling.
Second, these bikes are a real pain to mount and dismount in a crowd. During these times, that 60 kg of rider that could be used to balance the bike is attempting to swing his leg over the bike and position himself on his saddle, all while trying to keep that 45 kg of bike upright during the inherently unstable procedure. Having to do this in a hurry, while talking to Control on the radio and keeping an eye on where he is going (not to mention where everything and everyone else is going) is a serious challenge. We are rapid response vehicles, and like I said before, every minute can count.
In short, constantly getting on and off the bikes is a pain, and staying on is much easier, safer (and highly encouraged by our training).
I appreciate that bikes are unusual, and seeing a fully laden response bike bearing down on you is intimidating. It is my eternal hope that people will eventually get used to response bikes and begin to understand how they behave. If nothing else, I hope people start to realise that we are an emergency vehicle, and just like any other emergency vehicle, the operator really does now what they are doing.
I was going to leave you with two things. The first was a relatively old advert that I really like about how to respond to an oncoming blue light vehicle (in this case, and ambulance). Unfortunately my Google skills have let me down and I can’t find it… The second (which I have found) is my customary musical interlude (on both YouTube and Spotify), this time a track from a band I have just started listening to again after having been forgotten for quite some time. Enjoy.
I was cycle responding at a music festival. It’s crowded, there are lots of jobs, and my partner and I are responding right left and centre, 999 calls, shouts for backup, the works.
So after a couple of interesting jobs (which I may or may not post about later), we’re sent on to a 999 call to a collapse. Full emergency conditions, which for us bikes means sirens, whistles (normally get us much more attention than a siren), blue lights if we have them (for all the minimal good they do) and dodging and weaving through people as quickly as we can (without hitting anyone). We’re making good progress, given the crowd density, and most people are fairly willing to get out of our way.
I’m trying to keep an eye on everything around me, hunting out a route that will let me progress, and so not really concentrating on what’s happening behind me. It’s a closed road, and we’re easily the fastest moving objects on it, so I’m not expecting anything that I’ve passed to affect me.
A bunch of people wonder in my way, and I can’t swing around them, so I stop briefly (I can impress one of my friends by briefly holding my bike at a stop without falling off), giving them a blast of my whistle (which is loud enough to make my ears ring) and my siren (which is a little pathetic) and then pulled away as they jumped aside. Almost immediately, I felt my bike swerve out underneath me, and I jumped off, trying to give my bike a graceful landing.
Turning around to get better leverage on the bike, I saw a girl holding on to my panniers, apparently helping me stabilise the bike. With it back upright, I thanked her, turned back around, mounted up and tried to go. And instantly feel my bike try to go out from under me again. This time I jumped off before it went, and swung around to find that girl still holding my panniers, laughing.
“Let go!” She just laughed again. “I said, let go. I’m busy.” She let go, but went to grab it again as I pushed my bike away. “Grab it again and I’ll call the police!” She continued to laugh, not saying anything, until some burly guy came out of the crowd, shouting at her as well. I took that as my cue to move on, fast.
Now I’ve heard stories of people chucking things at ambulances, and prank calls, and all the other things that waste ambulance time, and I’ve had people deliberately get in my way, but this is a new one on me. I still managed to catch up with my partner pretty quickly, the whole incident probably only lasted about a minute or so, but seriously, what the hell… It was fairly obvious I was in a hurry (the blue light and siren was a bit of a hint), and the markings saying ‘Ambulance’ are hardly subtle…
I just don’t understand what would possess someone to do something like that which would knock me off of my bike, particularly when I could have been going to a very unwell person.
I know I said I would do a series of posts on observations, and I still intend to, but at the moment real life is just getting in the way. This is just a quick update of what’s happening, and the next post will be about something I really need to get off of my chest.
So, I am rapidly approaching the end of my degree. My final report is due next Tuesday, and after the Thursday after that, I am done. Finished. Leaving my university and likely not coming back (except for graduation based stuff).
I’m not going to lie, it’s a scary prospect. Not accounting for my work placement, I’ve been in full-time education for 19 years. It is literally the only thing I can remember doing. As of September, I start on the beginning of what (at the moment, at least) will be a career in Engineering. Real engineering (it doesn’t get any more real than jet engines…), where the work I do actually has a real purpose.
I will be leaving behind what I know and am comfortable with, a huge number of my friends, and all the other benefits of student life. This is scary beyond belief…
In other news, I am currently bike-less again, as some idiot drove over the front wheel of my bike (fortunately while I wasn’t on it). Needless to say, this is very annoying, not least because I am currently sat on a bus that takes the most roundabout route home possible.
This year I am not going to the graduation ball. In fact, this is the first time since starting university that I’ve not been there in some kind of first aid capacity, and I have zero interest in going as a punter. I had intended to go as first aid, but I haven’t been asked yet, and the unit has upset one of my good friends, so we’ve decided to go on duty the next morning instead. The person who did the upsetting is now also not going, but I have managed to persuade my friend that it isn’t her problem any more (and so she doesn’t need to pick up the pieces after the very likely meltdown).
Speaking of meltdowns, the local adult division is currently having a very slow one. Three of the more progressive members have been made to feel very unwelcome, and so have walked away. As a result, their training program is steadily going down the pan, morale is going to drop (as people realise what they’ve lost), and its all going to go to hell. Of the units six-ish active ambulance qualified volunteers, they now have two actively refusing to do events, two prioritising county level events (me and CycleGuy), leaving two to (fail to) meet the units commitments (meaning other units have to help out).
On the bright side, my unit of young people is going strong. We have just had a very successful sponsored walk (where I got to legitimately play tag for the first time since I left junior school), and have half a dozen things planned for the near future.
Work is still being its normal irritating self (but that’s retail for you), and I’m doing far too many hours for the Organisation (no change there, then), and for the most part I’m enjoying myself.
When things start settling down, I will try to post more frequency. For now, I will get on when I can, and I’m still on Twitter (my lifeline when drowning in my project).
Now, to finish, another musical interlude. Enjoy 🙂
Yesterday, after a rather dull afternoon on duty, I went out to a meal with a group of my Organisation friends. Amongst them was one of the most senior uniformed members in the area. Now, normally I get on very well with this person (who I will christen TopBoss, because the people above her don’t count…), but everything I have been hearing has suggested that she has been getting in the way of us taking the bikes and making them better.
Needless to say, bikes came up at the meal (as they do…), but, unexpectedly, it was TopBoss who brought them up. By saying that she was getting us some shiny new equipment. To be precise, a set of miniaturised medical gas bottles and a lightweight, compact defibrillator that’ll actually fit in the panniers properly. This is kit we’ve wanted for a long time, as it makes our lives so much easier on duty. It’s only enough for one pair of bikes, but that’s a lot better than the nothing we expected to get.
It turns out, despite what we’ve thought, TopBoss is very much in favour of the bikes, but normally has too many other things she needs to buy to spare any money on a set of bikes that rarely get used. Which is really good (and a great relief).
Of cause, this means we now have only one person to blame for the state of the bikes, but he’s someone we can’t do anything about until the restructuring happens.
I’m about (but not straight away) to say something that probably makes me appear very selfish…
As a rule, I have in the past tended to be quite self-effacing (check definition) when it comes to being given opportunities. To be more specific, if there are not enough places to get to an event, I tend to be the sort of person who will offer up his place to another. I like to do things that help other people out, even if it inconveniences or harms me. On a number of occasions, this attitude has least that I have missed out on things that I particularly wanted to do, but there weren’t enough places.
We have a major duty coming up, the first of the season. As always, I said that I would prefer to cycle, but would do anything. Others have been less open-minded ( almost demanding that they be allowed to do whatever…)
As is probably to be expected from an organisation like this, we’re short-staffed. This means that people ( myself included) have been given roles that are less than ideal. Admittedly, I’m on a vehicle, which isn’t terrible, but I probably wont get anything, as is normal when I crew an ambulance… Nevertheless, I’m pretty nonplussed. I’ll do whatever is needed. I figure that at some point this might earn me brownie points, and besides, in my opinion it is the right thing to do…
Now it is possible that, at the last-minute, I’ll get reassigned to a bike. Its happened before, and rumor has it that it has been considered. Naturally, this hasn’t gone down well with some of the others. One person has even gone so far as to encourage me not to take my cycle uniform, so someone else can do it instead ( read: him).
Now I’m sorry. I appreciate that people are disappointed with their roles on the day. However, if I am given the opportunity to cycle, I’m jumping at it… I don’t often get to ride a bike, and I am usually very willing to go wherever I am needed. I see no reason to go against this, just because I’ve been offered a better position and someone else hasn’t.
Of cause, I’m far too tactful (read: timid) to actually challenge that other member on this. I just let it lie, and of cause this probably means he’s assumed I’ve agreed with him. It could be interesting if the situation actually comes up (though I doubt it).
As an organisation (or, at least, in my part of the organisation), we are very keen at helping out the local ambulance service. By this I mean we will send out crews on ambulances (and occasionally on bikes) to help the service respond to 999 calls. Understandably, this could only be done by experienced members, and one of the criteria for the ambulance work was a certain number of hours third crewing on those shifts. This means working with two experienced members to build up some experience dealing with patients potentially more serious than anything I’ve ever dealt with before, which I’m strongly in favour of. I don’t think I’d be happy going out on a shift without doing this first.
Unfortunately, since I qualified, it is no longer possible to third crew on any of our vehicles. Something to do with weight limits on the vehicles (which, given many of them are transit vans modified into ambulances, not necessarily their original design role). This is very frustrating for me, as it means I can’t gain the experience needed to do NHS support.
To make matters worse, there are very few of us in this position (probably about 3 or 4), and so nobody at county level cares enough to do something about it. As far as they’re concerned, there are enough people to cover the shifts, and so there isn’t a problem. This leaves me, and those few others, in a catch-22 situation: without having the needed experience, we aren’t able to gain the experience.
Needless to say, this is very frustrating.
A little while back, there was a possible solution. Our CRU lead sent us an email looking for interest in doing NHS cover on the bikes over Christmas. The roads get very busy in BigCity when everyone is doing their Christmas shopping, and the bikes can get around a lot easier than road ambulances. A load of us (apparently) applied, and it looked like it would go ahead. I even delayed heading home for Christmas around this. A couple of us entertained the thought that this might count towards us getting some experience towards the ambulance work.
Of cause, it never happened. And we only found that out for certain a couple of days before the period was due to end. The reasons given was lack of interest (yeah right), other duty commitments (*looks at depressingly empty duties book*) and lack of funding (*sigh*). Some of the more cynical amongst us suspect our useless County CRU lead is also to blame, but ho-hum.
All I’ve got to hope, in the nicest possible way to my patients, is that I get something interesting to do on the normal shift. Which, given my track record on a vehicle (nine or ten shifts, one patient transported for a minor injury) seems rather unlikely. The only time I might have had an interesting job, someone kicked me off my truck (story to follow).
I think, as far as possible, I’ll try to stick with the bikes. At least on them I get something to do (and some useful exercise), giving me some experience treating, even if it’s not transporting someone…
My friend and I are already planning what out of county events we want to do. Hopefully we’ll have a good yeah helping out our colleagues in the big city. At least there they know how well a bike unit can work…
- Ambulance Excitement (walkingplasterdispenser.wordpress.com)
And yet again, the politics and the inertia of the Organisation takes a hit. Not with me this time, but with one of my friends. He and I have been doing a fair few out of county events to get some responding experience, and the main reason: there are next to no events we can go to in our own county. It’s been good fun, and a good experience to see how other areas cover their events.
This has the side effect that we’ve seen how good some of the other units can get, and quite how far behind in development ours is. It’s a bit depressing knowing that we’ve got so few events people are fighting over them, when other units have more events than they can cover. It’s also sad to see how not-seriously people are taking our bikes, and the general neglect they’ve received in comparison with some of the others I’ve ridden over the past fortnight. I know they aren’t as flash as our fancy front-line ambulances, but they are important and useful in their own right (and would be more so if they were properly maintained). At the moment, we daren’t take them out of county, they are so sub-standard.
Don’t get me wrong. For the most part they are safe to use and they do the job. Well, for the most part… The problem is that they are older than average, have previously been poorly maintained, and the unit doesn’t currently support itself financially so none of this is likely to change any time soon. The unit has just gained a load of new and keen members, but there is no so much inertia over change, and so many blocks in our way, we’ve got a lot to deal with to get things up to scratch.
I hope that things will get sorted. We have the enthusiasm. We have the ideas. Now we just need to get the money, and the support from above, and we might get moving.
Why does everything in a volunteer organisation have such inertia…
We’re standing by outside the recruitment post. Our bikes are attracting a lot of attention: a push bike with Ambulance blazoned across it is an unusual sight.
“992, 992 from Control.”
I turn away from the kids I’ve been explaining the bikes to. “Go ahead Control.”
“Respond under emergency conditions to romeo-one-five. Collapsed child.”
I peer at my map, matching up R15 to where I currently am. Bloody hell, we’re the other side the city. I turn to see my partner already mounting up. To the kids: “Sorry guys, got to go.” I jump on to my bike, kick the stand away, and push off.
My partner pulls off ahead, and I slip in behind him. I was good, and left my bike in a low gear when I pulled up. We accelerate away, shifting up the gears until we’re racing along the road at a respectable rate.
It’s dusk, the perfect time for visibility. What’s left of the sunlight makes our fluorescent jackets glow, while it’s dark enough for the reflective strips shine in every light. Nobody should fail to see us as we race past.
We’re in luck. Most of the route is a closed road. We have the tarmac to ourselves. We make good time, getting half way to the far side of the event to the other before we know it.
We’re getting to the busy part now. Slowing down a little, we weave between clumps of people, earning a few glares as we take a turn faster than perhaps people would like. We shift down, cutting out speed to safely navigate around the dawdling obstacles.
The crowd thickens. The spaces between the groups narrow. We start to lose speed, stuck behind people wandering along, not expecting two cyclists to try to barge their way through.
On goes my siren. They sound a bit weird, too high-pitched, but they certainly grab people’s attention. People turn and stare. A path opens up in the crowd, and we regain a little of our lost momentum.
One group turn and stare. We approach, weaving left and right, trying to find a way past. My siren is still going full blast, and it’s joined by my partner’s electronic buzzer. The harsh sound cuts across the sounds of the crowd, making people wince, but still they stand, staring at us like rabbits in our headlights.
We’ve slowed to a crawl, nowhere to go. Frantically we wave at them. “Make a path!”
Comprehension dawns. They dawdle out of our way, and we pull off again. Finally, a clear path opens, the crowd finally getting the hint that the loud, horrible noise means ‘we’re in a hurry, get out of the way’, not ‘everyone stop and stare’.
We career around the last few corners, the road finally clear again. We almost reach a sprint as we close in on our destination. I’ve been listening in to the radio as much as I can, in the hope that we get stood down, or someone got their first. No such luck.
We skid to a halt at the mouth of the road, screeching disc brakes announcing our presence better than any siren. The road is short. If anyone was collapsed there, we’d be able to see them.
My partner circles up and down the road, scouting the area, while I hold a slightly breathless conversation on the radio, confirming the location of the call. Control tries to call back the original caller, while we lean up against our bikes, catching our breath.
Eventually they stand us down. Apparently our ‘collapse’ had got back up again when his parent’s didn’t give him all the fuss he wanted. Of cause, they hadn’t thought to stand us down.
We took the slow route back to the first aid post…
- Cycle Response (walkingplasterdispenser.wordpress.com)
- Cycle Response Training – Part 2 (walkingplasterdispenser.wordpress.com)
- Cycle Response Training – Part 1 (walkingplasterdispenser.wordpress.com)
- Four new cycle paramedics trained for Great Yarmouth (bbc.co.uk)