Saturday, 29 December 2007


Six emergencies. One time-waster.

We have become an ugly consumer society, hell-bent on spending every last penny (that we don’t have) on price-reduced items we probably don’t need. Our credit cards allow us interest-free debt and the banks know – they just know – that a large percentage of us will never be able to recover the five grand limit they gave us in time and that they will earn a hefty 15% profit from our stupidity and greed.

Welcome to the Christmas sales.

I joked with my colleagues that we should have a couple of vehicles on standby in Oxford Street but later on in the day the joke would be on us. I got in at 6.15am, started rolling at 6.30 and all was quiet for the first few hours of the shift.

My first job was to a 46 year-old female who had called from a women’s hostel. The reason for an ambulance had not been given, so I was sent to investigate. I arrived to find a confused staff and manager; they had no idea that an ambulance had been called and it was strict policy, according to the boss-lady, that all guests go through the main reception if they wanted one. This kind of confused me because I could see where it wouldn’t be practical: I wouldn’t want to mess around going through other channels during my heart attack when I had a perfectly good mobile phone with me. On the other hand, it was good news for us because it meant calls like this wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) happen.

Eventually, after a ten minute wait, the culprit was found and I was taken to her.

‘Do you want to talk to her alone?’ the good intentioned hostel manager asked.

Hmm...women’s hostel. Beaten women, abused women, drug addicts, alcoholics, frightened women...

‘No, I think it would be better if there was at least one member of staff with me at all times’, I replied.

My patient had nothing wrong with her. She was instantly defensive and swore a lot during our conversation. I asked her why she thought she needed an ambulance and she had no answer. Then she decided she had a valid reason.

‘I have cracked ribs. I need some sort of pain relief.’

The hostel manager gave me a ‘I know nothing of this’ look.

‘So you want to go to hospital?’ I asked.

‘No, I f**king don’t. I want YOU to give me something for the pain and then you can go.’

I felt needed.

‘Well, I won’t be doing that because I don’t just dispense pain relief and leave the patient behind.’

At that she decided I was no longer useful. I think she was disappointed that a man had shown up for her in the first place. To be honest I would have preferred to leave her to a couple of my female colleagues – she had an obvious hatred of my gender.

I left her to the staff and went back to my station. It would be a couple of hours before I went to my next call but I didn’t stay at the station – I was sent on standby. The hierarchy in Control don’t like it when I am sitting down with my colleagues for too long. Instead I have to go out, patrol around and sit in the car watching the empty streets.

My next call was a 20 year-old woman who complained of blood in her urine. She was in a hotel room with her boyfriend and had gone to the loo and noticed a few spots of blood in her pee. She pointed it out to me when I arrived but I couldn’t see anything untoward in the pan. Her boyfriend kept a concerned distance. Young men tend to do that when their partners have a medical crisis – especially one of this nature.

‘When is your period due?’ I asked.

‘Now. It’s a week late’, she said.

‘Oh’, I thought.

She had a little abdominal pain too, so she may have experienced implantation bleeding. The crew arrived and she was taken to hospital for further checks.

I had no idea how busy it had become in Oxford Street and the surrounding area during my first four or five hours on duty. Generally, the streets had been quiet and the traffic light, so working was fairly stress-free. Then I got called out from my station for an 18 year-old who had been stabbed in the chest in one of the large department stores.

I got to the Regent Street end of Oxford Street and was probably no more than 300 metres from the scene when I hit immobile traffic and thousands of people. There were so many bargain hunters on the street that they spilled onto the road, making progress for vehicles very slow indeed. Bendy buses make things even worse because they take up so much room, length-wise that by the time I get to the end of one, another has pulled out in front of me and the distance I had covered becomes nonsense. A police car joined me at the front but it too became obstructed, regardless of the light and noise we were both generating we were going nowhere fast. It took way too long to get near to the scene and I could see other police vehicles up ahead. It was infuriatingly frustrating.

Eventually, after crawling along for a stupid length of time, the police car pulled in and mounted the pavement, the officers inside directing me to do the same. We were still sixty metres or so from the scene and I had no idea where exactly the patient was and what state he may be in. I had been asked to report for HEMS but time was slipping away if there was any hope for him, even with an emergency doctor.

I ran all the way to the store with my bag. It weighed more than ever for some reason and the crowds made the jog very hard work indeed. I was wheezing like an asthmatic old man by the time I got to the doors of the place. The cops were with me but none of us knew where to go and nobody was there to guide us. Clearly the needs of shoppers came before the care of a stabbing victim.

The police got on their radios and the location – at the back of the store – was given. By the time I reached it an ambulance was on scene and the patient was inside being treated. I should have taken the back route to the store but I wasn’t given that instruction. I could have saved five minutes had I thought it through. There was a motorcycle paramedic on scene too and he told me what had happened.

A young black guy got stabbed in the back by someone in the crowd while he was shopping. Nobody seemed to know the reason (is there ever one?) but he wasn’t critical and he would survive. It wasn’t a chest wound so HEMS wouldn’t be necessary.

I struggled back into the crowds and got to my car. I filled in my paperwork and moved off in an attempt to get the hell out of there. A sea of bright yellow Selfridge’s bags swamped the area. Obviously it was the sale to be at today. You can tell where the Selfridge building is now because they have erected scaffolding all around the front so that falling masonry doesn’t kill you. I think these people would have thronged the pavement below the hazard anyway to be honest, regardless of the safety measures taken by the store’s owners; such is the level of greed and desperation for a bargain.

I can honestly say that if you were there and you suffered a heart attack, our chances of reaching you in time would have been severely hampered. The irony is that saving a few quid on a toaster may have cost you your life today. Thank God sales are moving across to the internet and that this High Street lunacy will soon slow down...or stop altogether.

Although I tried, I didn’t get clear of Oxford Street and my next call was to a 45 year-old, ‘bleeding PV’ in another department store. Again I took forever to find my patient because no member of staff came to meet or guide me. I had to ask directions and at one point found myself standing in a bloody queue because shoppers wouldn’t let me push forward!

I had to get on to the third floor and opted for the lift rather than defying death on the escalators. I ordered everyone out of it when it reached the ground floor (no more Mr. Nice guy) and there were three people with me when I got in. One of them had the nerve to push the button for the second floor, slowing me down even more, despite my request that I get to where I needed to go first. One of the women in the lift had a few bags with her.

‘Is this worth it?’ I asked her, ‘I mean, did you get a bargain worth all this hassle?’

‘Oh I'm not buying, I’m only here to exchange something’, she replied with a smile.

My God woman, are you mad?

I found my patient after asking directions twice more. She looked very pale. Her daughter was with her and she explained that her mum had gone to the loo and bled while urinating. I glanced over at where the girl was pointing (the ladies toilets) and I saw a huge queue of women standing there, waiting to get in. I still find it incredible that public places don’t accommodate women properly when it comes to toilets. They should build at least three times as many toilets for females as males in any building where the proportion is likely to be skewed in their favour. Either that or a new design for female toilets needs to be created.

The crew fought their way to me and we took the lady back down to the ambulance. All the way down we had to shove and shepherd people out of the way. There were couples arguing and a few people fighting among themselves in queues. It was a scene that truly reflected today’s society I think.

I left the crew with the patient and greened up away from ‘the street of Hell’. FRED had other ideas though and sent me right back into it for a 19 year-old who had fainted. By the time I got to her she was recovering well and an ambulance soon showed up to cart her off to hospital for further checks.

I decided to distance myself from that place and made my way along to Tottenham Court Road. I got one more call to a store in Oxford Street but it was cancelled when it got down-graded to a green1. I finally got out of there and drove to a quieter part of town.

My last call of the shift was for a 75 year-old man with chest pain and DIB. The crew were just behind me and we went to see him together, on the 11th floor of a tower block. He had abdominal pain mainly with some back pain too. He had no cardiac history and wasn’t taking any medicines but the crew took him in and I went back to my base station and handed the keys and FRU ‘phone over to my incoming colleague.

‘Good luck’, I said.

‘Oh, like that is it?’ he replied.

‘Yep', I said.

Be safe.


Anonymous said...

Nightmare mate.
Thought Glasgow was bad enough but couldn't even contemplate going to Oxford street!
Dunno whats worse, i'm on nights just now so although i miss the sales mayhem, i've got the joys of picking up the pieces of the alcohol fuelled fun..

Take it easy fella and have a good Ne'erday


Responder said...

Maybe a case for a couple of cycle paramedics in Oxford street during the sales.
Well done, dont envy you that, drove into the Natural History Museum to deliver some "samples" just before Christmas and that was bad enough never mind trying it under emergency conditions.

Happy Hogmanay mate

Dan said...

It's crazy... The world grinds to a halt for the chance of money saving on crap people don't actually need, and it has literally become every man for himself out there, regardless of fellow-man in dire need.

You obviously have the patience of a saint - I'd have been shouting at people ;)

Lauren said...

You call it 6 emergencies and 1 time waster. I see it as only of those people actually requiring an ambulance (the 75 abdo pain). It's the expectation of these idiots that every minor medical problem needs EMERGENCY treatment NOW! Cut your finger? Call an ambulance? Feel a bit giddy after a night on the piss? Call an ambulance! All of these people could have reasonably made an effort to get to an emergency department if they'd been that concerned. And I could have told them to piss off instead, cos I have better insurance than you :-)
ED Doc

Xf said...

Happy New Year (Hogmanay) to you all too!