A Day in the Life of an Ambulance Crew

As part of my training as a Community First Responder I was offered the chance of two days as third man on an ambulance. My first day was on 4th December 2008. The alarm was set for 5 a.m. and so I awoke on the appointed day very bleary eyed. After a quick breakfast and armed with a packet of biscuits for emergencies, I set out for the ambulance station at Maidstone. I had originally been assigned to a paramedic car but on arrival at 6.45 a.m. the car had already left and a clinical technician offered instead to take me out on an ambulance. The crew were two very helpful young ladies, Gail and Sarah.

No sooner had we sat ourselves in the ambulance than we received our first call. It was to an old peoples home, where an 86-year-old female had stopped breathing. We rushed in, only to find an orderly giving CPR (resuscitation), with the lady lying on top of the bed. Even I had learned that CPR should only be carried out on a hard surface, so we quickly lifted her onto the floor and started resuscitation but it was too late and she was pronounced dead. She was very frail and the paramedic, who arrived soon after said that she had probably had a massive heart attack and would not have been saved, even with the correct procedure.

Before we could be sent on another call the paperwork had to be completed. Apart from attending to the patients, this was necessary for each incident the crew was called to. The form is especially useful if a patient is taken to hospital as all the necessary information, not only name, age next of kin etc. but also medication taken, results of tests carried out in the ambulance and a lot more, three pages in all, often accompanied by a detailed report, can be of great use to the hospital staff and can also be used in a court of law.

We were then sent to a lay-by to await further instructions. They were not long in coming. Our next call was to an accident on the M20 London bound, where someone was reported trapped in a car. Blue lights again and we sped along the motorway but just before we reached the scene we were called off. Nobody was hurt but we later heard that a car had hit the outside barrier and so the driver was trapped because they could not leave the car without risk. A misunderstanding.

Our next call was to a house where a 79-year-old lady was laying in bed with numbness and pains in one arm and leg. She had been discharged from hospital the day before after an operation and it was deemed wise on the part of the ambulance crew and the paramedic, who was already there, that she should go back to hospital. So she was transported to Maidstone hospital, where we left her in the care of the A&E department. I felt very sorry for the husband who was looking very upset when we left his house.

No sooner had we left the hospital than the next call came. This was to the large Matalan store in the centre of Maidstone. A 36-year-old woman had collapsed in one of the aisles. Sarah had come across her before and knew at once that she was in a diabetic coma. She was taken to the ambulance in a semi-delirious state and the ambulance crew attempted to take a blood sample to measure her blood sugar. She fought against having the necessary prick for a long time but once the blood was taken it was checked to reveal it was only 0.7 mmol/l, very low. She was even more reluctant to take the hypogel to raise her blood sugar levels but eventually agreed and was given two tubes, which she managed to ingest. Unfortunately this was not enough and an injection was given. I was told that she had mental health problems and lived in a psychiatric home in Maidstone. As she would be looked after there, it was decided to take her to the home instead of the hospital. The home was very comfortable and she was soon supplied with tea and toast and we were offered doughnuts, which we readily accepted.

Now it was time for a well-earned lunch break. The half-hour went very quickly and we were soon on our way again, this time without blue light, to a young man, who had cut his hand. The wound was very deep and gaped open but it had stopped bleeding by the time we arrived. He had been working in a house and had just inserted a new blade into a Stanley knife, when he managed to slice into his hand. The lady of the house had been a nurse and knew how to stem the bleeding but had called for an ambulance because the lad was feeling faint. She was cross because it had taken 55 minutes for the ambulance to arrive but it had been classed as non-life threatening. We took him off to A&E and left him there.

Within a few minutes the next call came. Again we sped up the M20 motorway in the direction of London and then onto the M25. Again we were called off, this time because the London services had arrived first. Heading back towards Maidstone we received a call telling us that a 69-year-old man had collapsed in a pub at Wrotham Heath. We were not long in arriving, rushed in and found him lying on the floor, surrounded by his ex-colleagues. They had been out together for a meal. One of them was telling the patient the gory details of his prostate cancer operation and he had keeled over. He had already come round when we arrived, so he was taken to the ambulance and various checks made on him. Blood pressure, ECG, etc. were all in order and he was told to go back in the pub, have a glass of water and wait with his colleagues for half an hour before he attempted to drive home.

Outside in the car park our next call came through: a 67-year-old female with breathing difficulties. The patient lived in a remote spot and with blue light flashing we tore down country lanes. As we arrived a car pulled up behind the ambulance. It was a local Community Responder. This was a bonus for me as I was able to chat with her about her experiences. The patient was sitting in her living room and obviously felt very poorly. She was asthmatic and had a whole bag full of different medications. She was taken to the ambulance, given a low dose of oxygen and checks on blood pressure, etc. It was decided that she needed to go to hospital and she requested that it be in Tunbridge Wells. At this point we met the rush hour and it took us nearly an hour to get to the hospital, where she was taken to A&E.

We now started to make our way back to Maidstone but had not got far along the road when another call came in that a patient needed as CT scan and we were to pick him up from one Tunbridge Wells area hospital and to take him to the one we had just left. Our patient was looking very poorly so we got him into the ambulance and together with a nurse we made our way back to the main hospital. The nurse had tried to alert the consultant of our imminent arrival but his mobile phone had been switched off so that when we arrived the CT scan department was shut. By now the shift for the ambulance crew was coming to an end but they could not leave the patient on the trolley on which he had been transported as it belonged in the ambulance and was also very uncomfortable to lie on for any length of time. Finally a doctor arrived and said that the consultant would be another half an hour. After an aborted attempt to find another trolley on one of the wards, one was finally found in A&E.

So we left the nurse and her patient and made our way back to base in Maidstone, arriving there at 8.45pm. I was then able to leave for home but the crew still had to clean out the ambulance, check their equipment and replace anything that they had used during the day. For them the day had started a 6.30am and probably ended at 8.30pm. A hard and exacting job carried out with good humour and professionalism.