The Thin Green Line is breaking…

Posted: November 13, 2017 in Personal, Rants

You know, one thing that is never talked about in the Ambulance Service (or at least, not in as much detail as it should be) is mental health.  This is something that affects the whole of the NHS, and every emergency service – and you know, it’s time we talked about it a bit more honestly.

We don’t give ourselves enough credit for looking after ourselves, or enough time to do so.  Working in the emergency services, in the NHS, in any highly-strung and stressful environment – well, that takes its toll eventually.  There is also an attitude that develops within the Ambulance Service (and I can’t talk for other services or parts of the NHS, having never worked in them), and it’s an attitude that we speak about in hushed tones.

I’m talking about the attitude that all medics, be they technicians, paramedics, doctors, or any others, should be full of bluster and bravado.  That what we do should not affect us.  That those jobs we go to, those ones that friends and family say, “Oh, I don’t know how you do that”, that we just brush it off as part of the job without really thinking about it.  Or when you and your colleagues are sitting around in the mess room, and you happen to mention that you are having a bit of a tough time, and someone tells you to “man up”, or tells you that they’ve “been to worse, so why are you so affected by it?”

This attitude is toxic.  Plain and simple.

If we don’t encourage people to talk, to share, to actually look after themselves – well, then there won’t be anyone left to look after the public.  We’ll all be broken, shattered and exhausted shadows of our former selves.  As it is, very few ambulance staff manage to reach retirement age without being off on long term sick leave, or having resigned from the service entirely on medical grounds.  Regularly, I’ve seen days where there has been anywhere up to 25% of staff off sick long term, sometimes higher.  And the majority of those are mental health related, either directly, or because they’ve reached the end of their tether, and so find any excuse to go sick and to have a few days’ respite.

This tells me that, as staff, we are being sneered at, laughed at, and basically told that we can’t have time off if we are struggling with anxiety, depression, insomnia, various intrusive thoughts, or the pure ongoing pressure of the job being forced upon us.

A mental health problem is not always visible.  It’s not always as easy to tell someone is mentally unwell as when they have a cold, when they have a broken arm or leg, or when they have the age old ambulance D&V (diarrhoea and vomiting for my dear, innocent, non-medical readers).  So when you go into work, you don’t get people asking if you’re okay, or when you go for a sickness review meeting when you’ve been off for any longer than a week or two, your manager looks at you with a doubting look – because they can’t see that you are unwell.

THIS. NEEDS. TO. STOP.

We are losing good people, good friends, and good members of staff to this.  They are leaving the service, they are leaving the country.  They are even killing themselves.

Sorry if this isn’t the gory story you wanted it to be – but this needs to be said.

Come back next week for my own personal story about being mentally ill within the Ambulance Service.

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There are some very good campaigns being developed to encourage wider discussion on the subject of mental health in the emergency services.  Please, whatever you do, don’t suffer in silence.  Talk to someone.

The Bluelight campaign run by Mind is one of the best. Their helpline is open 0900-1800 Monday-Friday — 0300 303 5999

There is always The Samaritans as well, available 24/7 – 116 123 (from a UK landline or mobile)

 

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Numb

Posted: September 22, 2017 in Personal, Rants, Work

This is going to be a bit of a dark one, so I apologise in advance…

I attended a job, one that no paramedic ever wants to go to, despite all the bravado and bluster. I was first on scene, in what felt like a useless response car, that didn’t feel like it was going fast enough. I was on scene in far less than the now outdated 8 minute response time. The house was a powder keg of emotions – relatives screaming and crying, parents desperately trying to do what they could to help. Within what felt like half an hour, but actually was less than five minutes, I’d been able to get a Return of Spontaneous Circulation (ROSC), ably assisted by two colleagues who had burnt rubber to get their ambulance to the scene.

We took about 10 minutes on scene after this – to allow the patient to stabilise, to ensure we had not missed anything, and to gather equipment. Now…this was a point of contention between myself and my two colleagues (neither were paramedics). Indeed, this was one of the few times in my professional career to date that I have had to play the paramedic card. After these tense ten minutes, we moved to the ambulance and flew to hospital, still trying to treat the patient as best we could, my phone pinned between my shoulder and my ear to alert the hospital, and being flung around as people decided not to get out of our way.

The hospital part of this tale is irrelevant – a finely tuned, well rehearsed process, numerous pairs of hands helping out; a situation in which we in green take very little part. Afterwards, stood around the back of the ambulance drinking lukewarm coffee and looking at the detritus littering the floor and every flat surface in the back of the ambulance, you cannot help but feel numb. Numb and inadequate. Like you have not just done everything possible to fight the inevitable.

You clean up. You smile. You laugh, half heartedly it seems. You tidy, you bag the rubbish, you restock. Within ten minutes, it looks like nothing has happened – like you weren’t just trying to save a life that should have never been in jeopardy.

Everyone processes this differently. As the paramedic, the only paramedic, on scene, I went home and over thought and over analysed ever action, every decision I had made.

The next day. Well, the next day I found out that the patient had died.

The job can numb you to life, to death, to every emotion in between.

After almost four and a half years as a paramedic – should it not be easier than this?

Wow.

It has been a LONG time since I’ve posted anything here. To be honest, I’d almost forgotten about it. When I was training as a paramedic, I used this blog as a form of catharsis – I knew it was here, but I never really posted massively frequently. Since I qualified, I’ve been through a lot. But for some reason, I never needed to use this.

I’m sorry for that.

But. Change happens.

I’ve recently started university again, as a full time student, studying….

(Drum roll please)

Graduate Entry Medicine! So, all being well, I’ll be a li’l baby junior doctor in four years time.

So, I’m going to be using this blog for several things. I’m going to be posting about jobs I’ve been to over the years, and that I’m still going to, as I’m still working as a paramedic while I study. All the information from these jobs will be anonymised, and for education only. I’m also going to be talking about my journey to becoming a doctor, and hopefully can start to answer people’s questions, if I get any, about training.

So sit tight!

Career choices

Posted: August 10, 2012 in Personal, Work
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As I said last night – I’ve wanted to be a paramedic longer than I can remember. It’s been a career that has always appealed – I’ve never wanted a 9-5 job, I’ve always wanted to help people, and I’ve always wanted to be the guy who drives to work in the morning, or is on the train, and I look around, and know that I’m different to everyone else.

But equally – I love the anonymity the uniform provides. I love that I can see a patient and potentially make a difference in their life, or ease the pain for them or their family, but that as soon as I walk away, they won’t remember my name, just that someone in green was there to help them when they needed it. Every patient means something to me. I have notebooks with brief details in on every patient I’ve seen so far – it helps with reflection and learning, but also makes me realise how crazy work can be.

But so far, through all the jobs that I did during my undergraduate degree, and all the other jobs I’ve had – I’ve still always wanted to be a paramedic. And it feels right, I feel like it’s the place that I fit.

Though recently – some people have been questioning why I’m happy “just being a paramedic”. I’ve encountered this attitude both at work, and out of it. I’m sure I’m capable of going further, training as a doctor, as people suggest. But why? That would defeat the whole point of becoming a paramedic. Of being on the frontline, just me and a crewmate, dealing with whatever the shift throws our way. Of adapting and improvising to treat the patient as effectively as possible. Of being an ever present anonymous guy in a green uniform, there for when people need us, 24/7/365.

Yes, I want to push myself further in my career, but still remaining a paramedic. I want to specialise, I want to push the ambulance service forward. Heck, I want to push MYSELF forward. But, at the end of the day, I always want to be a paramedic.

Sometimes

Posted: June 25, 2012 in Personal, Work
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Sometimes you need to smile.

Sometimes you need to laugh.

And sometimes…you need to cry.

We cry because we care. We cry because what we do means so much to us. And we cry because we’re human.

When that day comes that you don’t cry…that’s the day you need a career change.

So…you want to be a paramedic? Really? Ok, take 5 minutes, go have a freezing cold shower, and come back if you’re sure!

Oh, you came back. Well, if you’re sure…

Sit down, young padawan, and I will explain everything…

I’m not going to kid you around – being a paramedic for most NHS ambulance trusts in the UK involves working 50% of your time on nights, otherwise known as “unsocial hours”. For this, you do get paid 25% extra, but you also completely naff up your sleeping pattern and you find that you spend most of your social time with other emergency service workers, or other healthcare workers. Get used to it.

Being a paramedic isn’t glamorous. It isn’t a job where you can grab the glory. It isn’t a job where people you help will remember your name for the rest of their life. It involves working all hours of the day, potentially outside, potentially in the rain and mud on the side of a road, potentially getting verbal and the occasional physical abuse thrown your way.

Being a paramedic, at least for the NHS in the UK, does not pay well. Read that one again kids. It. Does. Not. Pay. Well. But I’m hoping you ain’t in it for the money.

On the flip side, and this is the important part – being a paramedic is very rewarding. You get to help people, and you see life at it’s very extremes. When people come into the world, and when they leave. You can tell a family that their loved one is going to be ok, and see the smiles and relief on their faces, and you can tell a family that their loved one has died, and see the grief and hurt on their face.

You get a fantastic team of partners, crewmates and colleagues, who will always be there for you, both in work and out of it, who will always help you, always step up, and always watch your back. They may rip the piss out of you mercilessly, but they will always do everything they can for you. And when you’re in the shit and call for help – the police cavalry will come bursting through the door in minutes to get your back, as you will for them when they get injured.

You get to drive incredibly fast in something big, and occasionally powerful, with lots of blue flashing lights on top that makes a lot of noise. Don’t underestimate this – it’s helluva lot of fun.

And finally – you get to go home at the end of the shift, no matter how crappy it was, and know that somehow, even if it doesn’t feel it, you made a difference to someone’s life today.

Stay tuned for part 2 – how to do it, and part 3 – how to cope!

Peace, love and hugs.

Hard shift

Posted: June 8, 2012 in Rants, Work
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I love my job. I really do. I’ve wanted to be a paramedic for longer than I can remember.

But, sometimes…

Shifts suck. And you need to beat the crap out of a punchbag.

Hey folks – welcome back!! (more for my benefit than yours…)

Sorry about the extended absence…life, placement and other work have taken over my life the past few months. Things have settled down now, so time for an update for you folks!

  • I passed my year 1 OSCE’s – trauma, medical, ILS and shock-non shock – and got some dang good feedback!
  • I passed all of my assignments that have been handed in – LVF and reflections
  • Handed in my placement folder…
  • …so all that’s left is to get placement hours by end of July, and I’VE PASSED FIRST YEAR!

So yeah, I’m back on track, back to being here, and also making some damn good changes in my own life – hopefully more news on that soon-ish.

–Continued from here

When we last met, dear reader, I was bricking it as I saw a Lifepak flying at my head…my life, my future, the Lifepak, all passing in front of my eyes!

Luckily, we were able to catch it, and our catastrophically burnt patient started shouting and swearing at us to “F*CK OFF OUTTA ME ‘OUSE”. So we did. And fast.

Back in the relative safety of a response car, I had the privilege to witness my first report of a vulnerable adult over the phone. 30 minutes later, and we were able to head back to station, and I was able to reflect on what I’d let myself in for. After many more houses and patients like that, I still wake up every morning for shift with a smile on my face, and I still enjoy it, and I hope I will for years to come.

Assignments (again…)

Posted: January 27, 2012 in University
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Just a quick note, for those of you who read my post about my first semester

I have passed my last essay from last semester, with a score of 75…that’ll do!! Now got to focus on this semester, got two reflections about cases I encounter on placement to write, an essay, and a multiple choice exam – so just a few pieces of work to worry about.

Now to go and get ready for a 7 til 7 night shift tonight! Wish me luck, and keep reading!