Ambulance Stories (50)

Nothing To See Here

When I started this blog, I used to post a lot of factual stories about events that occurred during my long time working on emergency ambulances in London. But over the years, other categories took precedence, and I began to wonder if there was much more to tell. After all, you can only relate so many tales; some tragic, others amusing, before it all starts to sound like more of the same. But I was thinking back to those days this morning, and this memory popped into my head.

A warm summer evening in west London, probably around 1995, maybe 1996, I don’t remember the exact date. I was on the late shift, starting at 3 pm, and finishing at 11. My regular partner was on holiday, and I arrived for work wondering who I would be crewed with that day. An awkward-looking young man appeared, tall and gangly, with an edgy and nervous demeanour. He asked if I was Pete, and told me he was working that shift with me. I hadn’t seen him before, and it transpired that he was a new guy, recently out of training school, and assigned to the divisional relief rota. He had what sounded like an Australian accent, but when I asked, he told me he was from New Zealand.

As we checked over the vehicle, he was keen to let me know that he was a very experienced first-aider in his home country. He had helped out in the voluntary services there for five years, before coming to live in England. He was quite scornful of our training and equipment, gabbling on about how much better things were in New Zealand, and how the volunteers there were more professional than the staff he had met in London. I could have taken him to task of course, but I had heard all that stuff before, and it was like water off a duck’s back to me. He asked to drive, so he could get to know the area. That meant I would have to spend all my time shouting directions to him, whilst looking after the patients in the back. But I said OK, telling myself that it was only one shift, and it would soon be over.

On the first couple of jobs that afternoon, he drove the ambulance like a maniac, at breakneck speed, stamping on the brakes, and shouting obscenities at drivers who were slow to move out of our way. I sat relaxed in the passenger seat. I had already decided that I was not going to like this bloke, and I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of arguing with him about his driving. As the evening rush hour began, he hadn’t calmed down, and seemed to be trying to prove a point. I gazed out of the window, seemingly oblivious. Just before 6 pm, we received a call to attend a road traffic accident, not far from the base we operated out of. The radio operator added the words “Believed serious, possibly fatal” after giving us the location. That got him really fired up, and we arrived in record time.

The scene was one of carnage indeed. A woman and female child had been struck by a car as they ran across the road. The child wasn’t moving, and her mother was obviously badly injured too. To make matters worse the car had swerved after the accident and hit a traffic island. The driver wasn’t wearing a seat belt, and had impacted the window, and steering wheel. I jumped out, shouting to the New Zealander to call for another two ambulances, and to request the police and fire service too, all usual in such accidents. At the busy junction, and the height of the rush hour on a hot summer evening, there was naturally a large crowd of onlookers. Traffic was stopped, drivers out of their cars, and people hanging out of nearby windows to see what was going on.

The child, a girl of around ten, was fatally injured, with no vital signs. As well as a massive head injury, her neck appeared to be broken. Her mother had one badly fractured leg, with bones protruding, and she was also bleeding profusely from a head injury sustained when dragged along by the car. Fortunately, she was barely conscious, so unaware of what had happened to her daughter. A witness was telling me that the car hit the girl at some speed, and then ran over her mother, dragging her under the car until smashing into the concrete base of the traffic island below the sign. I put a blanket over the dead child, and proceeded to treat the head and leg injuries on her mother. I shouted to the new guy to check the driver of the car, who appeared to be a teenage boy. An overview of the scene would have looked dramatic indeed. A dead child, lying in a pool of blood, covered by a blanket. A badly injured woman, with a trail of blood, tyre marks, and road dirt leading to where she was lying, as well as a car crashed into a traffic sign, windscreen smashed, and the driver’s face covered in blood.

As I struggled with the woman’s injuries, I listened out for the sirens that would announce the arrival of some help. But there was a delay getting another ambulance, due to a shortage of crews, and the fire engine was having to come from some distance too, which I obviously didn’t know. A young police woman arrived, and I sent her to check the driver of the car, as I couldn’t see my colleague anywhere nearby.
Then, above the noise of the crowd, the passing trains, and the sounds of traffic I heard someone shouting. “NOTHING TO SEE HERE, MOVE AWAY NOW, NOTHING TO SEE HERE”. Recognising the accent, I twisted round, spotting the other ambulance man some fifty yards away, arms outstretched, and gesturing to the crowd gathered on the road. I heard him shout again, “NOTHING TO SEE HERE”, before yelling at him to get his arse back to the scene, and get on with looking after the driver.

Fortunately, two more ambulances arrived, along with the fire service. One crew dealt with taking the child away, and another stood by as the firemen cut the roof off the car, ready to extricate the driver. We could now leave, taking the mother to the nearby casualty department. As we were cleaning up later, I explained to my temporary partner that he should pay less attention to the crowds in future, and concentrate on looking after the patients who have a chance of surviving.

As we got back into the vehicle, I added, “And by the way, you were wrong. There was plenty to see”.

65 thoughts on “Ambulance Stories (50)

    1. He was new and inexperienced, which is fair enough. But rather than admit that, he just faffed around instead. Something that sadly happened all too often.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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    1. The term Paramedic came to be used later, when advanced drug administration was rolled out. I was an Emergency Medical Technician, so much the same thing, though I was never trained to give the full range of drugs. Glad they helped your son. Sometimes, common sense and experience can be more useful than a recently-qualified doctor. πŸ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Your story brings back memories of FB. He’d always be found directing traffic at RTAs (it wasn’t the worst thing he did, either). I’ll never be able to forget him, unfortunately.

    Luckily, there are plenty of good memories from C4 as well!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I remember him all too well mate. You might also recognise the person in this story too. πŸ™‚
      As you say, many good memories, and happy times alongside the bad.
      Cheers, Pete.

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  2. I’ll have to catch up on some more of your ambulance stories. As a psychiatrist, most of my emergencies were quite different to those, but I understand perfectly well what you mean about working with somebody you know well and also about students. I always loved to listen to the stories of the people who’d lived through different times in the profession and the old dinosaurs are always the best teachers (it’s difficult to teach what you have not experienced). Great post, Pete!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Shocking and tragic and your calm recount of it gives the “story” a dramatic, eerie feel. Then came your classic, one-liner punch at the end. Nicely done. I’m sorry you had to experience these events but how grateful to you and others in your profession who answered the call.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Cindy. I am still quite surprised by how quickly such things became ‘normal’, when you did them on regular basis, every day. In potentially stressful situations like those, you depend heavily on that trust and bond with your regular crew-mate. The last thing you need is to be saddled with someone like the guy in this story.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I had a student once who told me how much better her teachers had been at University. Then she transferred back there and was taught by a friend of mine. Apparently the girl went on and on about how much better her teachers had been at my college! That came back to me with the guy running on and on about how much better New Zealand was. Of course, he had left there!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think we have discussed ‘supporting’ nurses on escort before, FR. Happy memories.
      Amazingly, it is all too possible that we may have ‘met’, in an ambulance, to or from Hemel. How weird would that be, my dear friend? πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ x
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Have we??πŸ™„ haha now you see why I don’t dwell in the past.. I have no danged memory! 🀣 I suppose my amby drivers were from the Hemel End though, so probably would not have come across you, not really sure how it all worked.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. We would come up from London, collect someone who needed transfer to a city hospital, and then try our best to return the nurses later. But they often had to take a taxi, when we were too busy.
          It’s probably a 500-1 chance at best. πŸ™‚

          Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow Pete! They were lucky to have you! Did the other fellow stay on? I hope he was ‘adjusted’ if he did. My mom was a volunteer EMT in a small town for a few years and I’ve heard some of her stories too, some of which also include maniac ambulance drivers with no common sense. I don’t know how you all do it, but I’m glad there are some who do, and do it well too!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Susanne. He did stay on, but transferred to the suburbs. I think he realised that his boasting had been ‘uncovered’, and he calmed down later. I hope he did, anyway. πŸ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. “…the driver of the car, who appeared to be a teenage boy.”

    I know it wasn’t part of your job, but out of human curiosity, did you ever follow up on scenes like this? In particular, did you ever find out whether the teenager was charged with vehicular homicide or manslaughter?

    “…she was barely conscious…”

    Is it fair to assume that the newbie from New Zealand drove the ambulance to the hospital while you tended to the mother? If this is the case, did she regain some clarity of thought? Did you have some communication with her? Did you get some kind of report on her after she was treated at the hospital.

    Answers to these kinds of questions are best left out of the story, of course. They are best addressed (or not) in the comments section.

    The events as described in your ambulance story are engaging, although they evoke nightmarish images for those of us who have never witnessed a tragic scene like this.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The thing about ambulance work is that there is little ‘follow-up’, David. The woman was delivered to the hospital alive, (though semi-conscious) which was my job. I then moved on to the next call, and had to forget about the personal tragedy I had just encountered. As for the driver of the car that killed the girl, I have no idea how he recovered, or if he was charged with driving offences. We constantly moved on, 8-10 times a day, and just couldn’t keep up with what had happened, or who we had taken to many different London hospitals.
      You had to divorce yourself from the immediate reality of what you had just been doing. Otherwise, you would surely have been unable to work out the shift.
      I saw a documentary about an emergency room doctor at Cook County Hospital, Chicago. He made the perfect statement about emergency treatment.
      “We spend 15 minutes in the lives of the worst day the of the patient’s life. Then we move on”.
      That says it all.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 3 people

  7. Ahh Pete I encountered plenty of people like this when I worked in the police force (as a civilian – I could never have done the job of an officer 😊). Give some people a uniform and they think they’re God. Utmost respect to you for working in such a vital role 😊

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Lucinda. I worked for the Met Police in central London as a civilian Communications Officer for 11 years, after I left the LAS. I met many more in the police too, including those ‘equipment junkies’, ‘job-pissed overtime maniacs’, and ‘gun nuts’. πŸ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. How interesting! I was in recruitment and personnel. I’d forgotten about the equipment junkies who walked around like Inspector Gadget with two of everything hanging off them. Also the “re-treads” – officers retired from another force reemployed by us (British Transport Police) for whom everything was better in their old force.

        Liked by 1 person

          1. No, I didn’t join until 2005, just after the 7/7 attacks. I read your post about Ladbroke Grove, it sounds truly horrifying. I remember seeing the news footage at the time.

            With my HR hat on, I must say I found it really sad that you declined counselling in case it was used against you later on. I understand why you might feel that way but I hope you got to talk to someone (if you needed to).

            Liked by 1 person

          2. I spoke about it to my then girlfriend at the time, She was the Senior Nurse who dealt with all the casualties at one of the receiving hospitals. So, we understood each other very well, from a shared experience.
            Best wishes, Pete.

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  8. Salutory and stringent lesson from the front line, especially for those of us who naively suppose ambulance teams are always just that – tight units, working together in critical conditions – never suspecting that the individuals are sometimes having to overcome private stresses and irritants while they do their job.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Whenever a regular crew-mate (who usually became the closest of friends too, via shared experiences) was off sick, or on holiday, we all used to dread having to work with someone we didn’t know well, or someone very new. It made the shift feel twice as long, and sometimes the clash of personalities made it very unpleasant. ‘Old Hands’ like me always had to deal with the fact that we often had fierce reputations too, not always warranted.
      Not long before I left, I was used as part of an experienced pool of staff, training new crews on ‘live’ operational duties. Two young girls assigned to me telephoned the Training School and complained that they had to “tolerate an old dinosaur”. The instructor told them they were lucky to get me. They didn’t know he was a former crew mate, and a good friend too. πŸ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete. x

      Liked by 2 people

  9. I was not aware until I read your post that you were an ambulance driver and a paramedic in London. What a stressful job you had! As to your helper, it seems to me that outsiders often view and judge everything with that peculiar bias that their country has a superior system. I am glad you gave your young colleague something to think about at the end of the tragic episode, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Peter. I have a category devoted to Ambulance Stories, (up on the right of the page) and on my About page, I remark that I was an EMT in London, for 22 years. As his boasting was found out, he was suitably humble after that day.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. If you look to the right hand side, you will see ‘Ambulance Stories’, under ‘Categories’. Plenty more there, Mary. I did have to work with him a few more times that year, but as his inexperience and fears had been ‘rumbled’, he was a lot more relaxed and respectful, I’m happy to say. πŸ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s hard at first, Arlene, But like anything, you do get used to it. People expect you to be able to cope when you turn up, so you do. If you can’t, then you won’t stay long in a job like that.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 2 people

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