Those of you following along know where I work and why I can no longer mention them. For you new people, I work at one of the busiest airports in the Nation and the world. I meet all types of people, from the college kid traveling home on the puddle jumper to the executive boarding early for champagne on the A380.
I meet them all at one time or another because of a tight travel schedule that didn’t leave time for lunch, a few too many $12 mugs of beer at the terminal, a bag falls from the bin or, on the rare occasion, their pilot isn’t able to bring the aircraft in for a controlled stop.
Most times we encounter a person dehydrated, intoxicated or suffering from a minor traumatic injury. Like any other EMS service we respond, assess and offer treatments and transport options as appropriate.
It was the summer of 2009 when my discussions with Mark Glencorse, then a Paramedic in England, turned towards the American and NHS systems of care. In the US we were being told the British were being turned away at over crowded emergency rooms and old women were laying in the street to die. Mark was being told that in America if you didn’t have cash money the ambulance would not take you. This opinion was confirmed on multiple ride alongs with Mark in England and, most recently, at my current job.
A pilot has contacted the tower declaring a medical emergency, person unconscious and they are on final descent. ETA to terminal, 5 minutes.
My crews are at the jetway as it lurches to life to approach the aircraft that appears to be pulling into the gate rather quicker than most. Sometimes the pilot will call in CPR, other times you are met with a door opening and the sound of “three and four and five…”
Meeting us at the door the crew informs us that the patient merely fainted at the rear of the aircraft after getting up from their seat after the final descent began. She’s in good spirits, embarrassed, but in need of further physician evaluation and she agrees to it.
As the local ambulance company arrives she is digging through her purse rather intently.
“We have your passport if that’s what you’re looking for,” I mention to her, softly toughing her arm to distract her from the task.
“Oh, I know, but I need to pay for the ambulance.”
The looks that flashed around the room were of disbelief on all faces but one. Mine.
I crouched down into her line of sight and held her hand.
“You don’t have to pay right now. I wouldn’t be surprised if NHS picks up the tab, but they’ll take you in and get you well for no fee up front.”
Her face was considering my words when I realized some background was in order.
“I had the chance to serve a week in Newcastle Upon Tyne with the Northeast Ambulance Service and heard folks from that region concerned about American medical access. Rest assured, you can get care without cash in hand.”
She sighed heavily as the cot finally reaches her side. As she was covered with a blanket and my business card tucked neatly behind that of the airline supervisor in her purse I heard her tell the ambulance Paramedic very softly “He told me not to give you any money now.”
To his credit, the medic quickly whispered back “I’ll make sure the hospital knows to contact the NHS for you.”
Her smile likely reversed the condition she was suffering from while the rest of us packed up and headed back to get ready for the next call.
Preconceptions can cause trouble.