The New Zealand Herald published an article today about a mum who is a member of the armed offenders squad. Mum joins firing line to help brothers in arms makes for very interesting reading, and will probably cause much debate on whether it’s acceptable for a mum to be doing such a dangerous job. Whilst this is a more extreme career for a mum, people don’t realise that there are a number of front line workers who find themselves in dangerous situations as a normal part of their job. I recently wrote the following account of a situation I found myself in working as a Paramedic. I wrote it for myself as a writing prompt about fear, and didn’t really have a plan to post it, but I feel it’s right to do so now.
Heading back to station for a well earned break, we were interrupted by the crackle of the radio calling us to respond to our second cardiac arrest of the night.
“Looks like we won’t be eating any time soon,” I muttered.
Ron turned on the beacons and increased pressure on the accelerator before grunting in response.
The red and white of the beacons cast grotesque shadows on the Fa’afafine plying their trade on the street corners as it raced through the intersection. With the traffic stopped, one enterprising ‘Fa’afa’ used the opportunity to lift her skirt and flash the suddenly captive audience, proving that she was still all male down there.
Arriving at the destination we’d been given we were met by a lone male who gestured round the corner and yelled, “Follow me.”
As we rounded the corner we were confronted by a group of men in front of a large property with high corrugated iron fences and barbed wire strung along the top. A flash of movement in the wing mirror caught my eye and my heart sank as I saw a group of men detaching themselves from the shadows, positioning themselves around the ambulance to prevent our escape. ,
“Shit!” growled Ron as my door was yanked open. ”We’re at a gang’s headquarters and are going to have to go in. We need backup now,” he barked into the radio.
As I scrambled out the ambulance I was accosted by a man yelling at me to “Hurry the fuck up.” He was unkempt, smelled of alcohol and left me in no doubt that if I didn’t hurry the fuck up he wouldn’t hesitate to fuck me up. Was that the glint of a knife I saw peeking out from under his leather waistcoat? With heart pounding, I hurried the fuck up, rushing to grab the pack, defibrillator and oxygen bottle. As I scurried up to the entrance of the headquarters, a prod by Mr Menacing nearly sent me sprawling, which renewed his demands for me to, you guessed it, “hurry the fuck up.”
Just inside the building was a mattress with our patient on it; a pool of vomit on the floor. There was no one with him, no CPR being performed. A quick check confirmed that our patient was pulseless and non-breathing so I started chest compressions while a menacing crowd gathered behind me. I sent up a silent plea that none of the thugs behind me would be so messed up on drugs that they mistook our uniforms for those of the Police. Fresh in my mind was another crew who had been assaulted while treating a patient who’d collapsed in a nightclub. Their assailant was high on drugs and had mistaken their actions as Police brutality.
Glancing at Ron, I expected him to be getting out the equipment he needed, but instead he was kneeling on the floor, a don’t-fuck-with-me expression on his face, ordering the nearest thug to go get the leader, who duly appeared a few seconds later. After a quick discussion the two of them were smiling and the air around us suddenly seemed a lot less threatening. He later told me that in all dealing with gangs, it’s essential to get the leader on side as soon as possible.
With defibrillator pads attached, and ventricular fibrillation showing on the screen, I pressed the button to charge up the defib. Mr Menacing was looming over my shoulder as I ordered everyone to stand back.
“No, I’m staying right here until you fucking get him back,” he muttered through clenched teeth.
“If you don’t move back now, you will end up just like him when I press this button and shock him,” I said loudly enough so everyone could hear.
The leader looked up, raised an eyebrow at Mister Menacing, then cocked his head at two others standing
behind him. Without a word, they grabbed him and dragged him outside.
As I pressed the button to shock our patient, I heard a collective gasp from the assembled crowd as the patient’s body arched from having 360 joules fired through his chest. My hopes for a miracle were dashed when I looked at the monitor and saw he was now in asystole; that flat line mocking all thoughts I’d had of being able to load the patient onto a stretcher and escape this situation we’d been caught in.
Starting chest compressions again, I was putting everything I had into it in the hope that I could get that stubborn heart started. Ron had the patient intubated, an IV inserted and was administering adrenalin, all in record time. As I started tiring and it was becoming obvious that we weren’t going to get him back, I glanced around at our audience all standing there with arms folded, their faces impassive, and wondered how the hell we were going to get out of there.
And then a huge ray of light appeared. Our audience was pushed back and replaced by ten Police Officers who created a barrier around us. Along with them was our backup crew. There was a lot of shouting and the sound of scuffles outside as those protesting the Police presence were subdued by another twenty or so officers. I was gently nudged aside by one of my colleagues who took over chest compressions, whilst the others got on with all the tasks needed to try to bring someone back to life. We didn’t succeed, but we sure gave it our best shot.
Afterwards we were sent back to station to finally have our very well earned break. We continued our shift and got on with the job as usual, because that’s what Ambos do.
And then, a few years later, I became a mum and returned to work when my baby was six months old. All the fear I felt on that night returned as the scene was replayed in graphic detail in my dreams night after night. It wasn’t just this scenario. Working in South Auckland meant that I’d found myself in a few precarious situations, with one resulting in a lengthy time off work and a spot of surgery after being assaulted by a patient.
Despite all this I really miss working as a Paramedic and hope to return to it in future. For the most part it’s the most rewarding job you can have, but as with any job, occasionally you have to deal with complete arseholes.
Dedicated to all parents out there working on the front line.
*Ron isn’t the real name of my partner that day. I changed his name to protect the not-so-innocent
As always, I value your comments, and would love to hear your thoughts on this post. Don’t panic, normal, much less serious posting will resume shortly.