Day 2 in Newcastle, Day 1 on the car.
The iphone rang so early I thought I was still dreaming. Sure it said 5:15 AM and Mark would be along to pick me up in 30 minutes time, but I felt destroyed. My body still thought it was 10 PM and was gearing down for night.
NO! I yelled to myself and turned the lights on.
This was going to suck.
I got cleaned up and dressed, then went to make a cup of coffee. Coffee in England is different than in America. In America you get a nice drip brewed cup of joe from perhaps a Peet’s, or even a Starbucks or gas station. In room 501 of the hotel, my HMHQ for the week, there was a water kettle and a baggie of freeze dried coffee. A taste I choked down at first and then missed as soon as I was on the plane ride home. I had come prepared for the coffee situation, however, as you may recall from this video I posted later in the day:
Mark took me over to his station, the sun yet to rise. Inside I met a few of the night shift going off duty in the ambulance room of the Fire and Ambulance Station. It immediately took me back to microwaving 25 cent burritos and drinking tap water during my internships. There was a TV in the corner, 4 very nice green chairs (green is the color for EMS there) a couple of side tables, small kitchenette with sink and a microwave. We really are the same.
Craving more coffee I went to fire up the kettle and prepared another cup of the freeze dried goodness as Mark took me out to the floor and to Swalwell 405, our Rapid Response Car for the day.
It was exactly as I had imagined. A ford station wagon, appointed with safety markings, emergency lights and the ever important aspect to the RRC, the label “Ambulance.”
Mark led me on a quick overview of the equipment kept inside and what I could carry on a job and what I should stay away from. We talked about interventions I could perform, such as assisting persons to stand or to walk, the basic stuff we all do, but at no time was I to use his giant Lifepack 12 to cardiovert someone in unstable SVT.
As soon as we were checked out we were sent on a system status post in a nearby neighborhood. Not to get Mark in trouble, but I needed more coffee (some have cocaine, others a hobby or “life”, I have coffee, let it go) and the only place that pours a cup is a place I hadn’t been in over two decades, the McDonald’s.
We were on post for an hour when we were called back to the station. You see, Mark and his co-workers are given a rotation back to the station each hour for bathroom trips, food and what not. When we left our area, another vehicle or car would fill in. This seemed simple enough at first, but a few days later, while watching the allocators try to juggle all the breaks and rotations, I wondered just how important that 1 hour mark was.
At the station Mark’s point to point radio came alive. I had trouble understanding the accents at first to decipher our assignment and there was no station alarm or alert system. Perhaps it would have awakened the firefighters upstairs? We climbed in the car and away we went, blue lights flashing to a reported fall victim. Specifics aside this was the perfect first call for me to see the NHS in action.
I in my station duty uniform with badge of office and Mark in his now famous green jumpsuit made our way in and found a run we EMT and Paramedics handle all the time, a minor muscular injury. Mark went into his comfort zone, patient care, and I handed him the BP cuff and placed the stethoscope across his shoulders to have it in reach. That got me a look I often saw as a small child when I would break something expensive. No one over there stores their stethoscope around their neck. I only do it on scene, mainly so I don’t lose it, but throughout my trip I never saw one ‘scope around one neck.
As I recovered from that faux pas a walking Saturday Night Live memory came through the door. The patient’s neighbor was a Scotsman, a true Scotsman, and when he found out I was American he began to tell me a story about an American he knew back in the 60s. I know this because Mark translated for me later. I could only make out a few words here and there, no unlike watching TV in a foreign country.
The Scotsman was ignored when I heard Mark tell the woman she should take some Peracetamol and the ambulance will be along in a moment. He is allowed to let his patients medicate themselves for new conditions. Now, I can create a gray area and make it work, but imagine telling the receiving facility that you let your patient dose up on Tylenol (paracetamol) for a new injury. The ambulance crew arrived and away the patient went and we were back in service. Nothing extraordinary, a simple run of the mill job we both encounter all the time. The only difference was arriving at the scene in a car, and alone (without me) would be challenging at first, but some days, with some crews, I am kind of am responding alone.
In my next post I’ll describe the odd moment when we were waiting in the middle of the highway for a second ambulance as a fire engine drove by, not assigned to the accident and something I think the NEAS needs to change immediately to better serve their citizens.