Thursday, 18 September 2008

The Dancing Panda

Amy becomes a drip stand and shows her disapproval for time-wasting drunks.

Day shift: Seven calls; one false alarm, two moved on by police and four by ambulance.

Stats: 1 Near-faint; 1 Abdo pain; 1 drug overdose; 3 EtOH.

It was a day of time-wasters and by the end of it I was very annoyed because their antics led to my going home late with an early start the next day. It’s so difficult to smile when you know there’s an hour-long drive and very little sleep ahead of you.
I had an observer with me today. Amy works for us but she's not frontline, although she does come out to watch us getting our hands dirty from time to time. She is a respected face and I get along well with her - she is a lovely person. She enjoys singing and dancing and confessed that she'd like to dress up as a Panda and dance around in costume. This prompted another colleague to reveal that he would like to dress up as a gaurdsman and sit outside Horsegaurd's Parade with a bottle of booze, just to see what they said. The bizarre discussion had me imagining the two of them dressing up and walking hand-in-hand down Oxford Street...just to get a reaction. This conversation, I must add, took place over a coffee when we were on a break. Only coffee was consumed, however.

So, it started with a 50 year-old man who, slumped against a wall in the street, decided he was blind. He was certainly blind drunk and had been pretending to have a fit. I was parked in the middle of the road so that traffic could flow but every time I crossed it I was dodging buses in the bus lane. The ambulance crew had the same obstacle course to run when they picked the man up and took him to the vehicle, where his temperature was taken and couldn’t be read because there was so much ear-wax on the thermometer probe – there’s never an excuse for dirty ears.

He was a thoroughly unpleasant man and frequently swore and spat at us. I believed he was blind because he acted the part well, although I doubted he would be allowed to wander about without a white stick…or a dog. Oh and he claimed he’d been robbed by other street people. Imagine that, his stick and dog stolen by unfeeling homeless thieves. This guy was new to me and, as you know, for the benefit of any doubt I will always allow you to make a fool of me once. So, off he went to hospital.

A 72 year-old man who’d near-fainted at an underground station but was recovering was taken to hospital anyway because he had a cardiac history with a previous heart attack. He also had a low pulse rate and that always arouses suspicion.

Then there’s the story of the stupid 18 year-old girl who created way too much trouble when her friend called an ambulance thinking she’d stopped breathing. The Red1 call had me racing to the hotel and up to the tenth floor, accompanied by panicking staff. She was lying on the bedroom floor doing the ‘I am dead’ act. She had managed to convince the people around her, so her ambition to become the world’s best actress was almost within her grasp but it wasn’t Oscar-winning and that’s what you need to persuade me and my colleagues.

After convincing her that I knew she was faking, I managed to get her to communicate using her eyes because she simply could not…or would not talk to me. So, it was the old one blink for YES and two blinks for NO routine.

‘Have you been drinking?’

One blink

I then turned to her ‘best’ friend. ‘Does she take drugs?’

‘No, never. Absolutely not’.

Back to my winking patient. ‘Have you smoked any drugs today?’

One blink.

I worked on the basis of ‘drugs you can smoke’ and went through the list with her until she blinked once at ‘dope’. Ah-ha! I also think the word was highly appropriate, given her condition and the worry she’d caused.

It took more than ten minutes but I eventually got the whole story from her and her friend. She’d snuck out of the room for a fly smoke, unbeknown to her friend and had reappeared at the door, just to collapse dramatically as soon as her mate opened it. She’s not an experienced druggy and the stuff she inhaled had been given to her by a complete stranger the night before – dangerously na├»ve.

The crew were not impressed and she was marched downstairs, still not talking, completely spaced out.

I met my blind man again after that. He was curled up asleep in a call box and a MOP had dialled 999 – from an unoccupied box, ironically, when panic set in and he thought the ragged, smelly human being might be dead. Worse still, he might be giving the area a bad name.

I woke him up at arms distance and he launched a verbal attack on me. His eyes, now miraculously able to see, were oozing yellow gel. I can only assume the hospital gave him a prescription for them and he’d squirted it on as if one drop meant the whole tube. The alternative didn’t even bear thinking about.

Eventually a kindly police man happened by, as they do and he offered to take care of the problem for me. All the guy wanted to do was sleep but he was choosing the worst places to be in broad daylight – he really needed to be out of eye and nose range of everyone.

Abdominal pain is taken seriously by us but it an abused symptom, often over-dramatically described and used as a tool for getting into hospital as commonly as chest pain. My 42 year-old Romanian, non-English-speaking patient rolled around on a sofa, half-naked (for reasons I will never understand) in a local tourist hotel, complaining of pain. She had no medical history and played more on it when her friends were around than when they weren’t – always a bit of a clue.

At the end of the day my patience was tested with two calls that were intrinsically linked. The first, to a 50 year-old man ‘unconscious’ in the street, led me to a Polish alcoholic who was feigning epilepsy. He and his mate had been found lying there by local workers but his friend left the scene when I showed up. A couple of wine bottles stood next to him and they were testament to his true state. So, he started with fake epilepsy, which was dreadfully acted out, then he tried to convince me he had a broken leg. He stood, walked and leaned on it, so I guess I was supposed to stop him or something. That didn’t work, so he told me his pregnant wife was in hospital and I should take him, even though it was not the local hospital. Obviously, the local medics had already met him.

Now, before some of you get all hot and bothered, I am NOT racist but our visiting Polish alcoholic friends have a system…they use epilepsy to get into hospital because they think every paramedic is going to fall for it or they think we are somehow duty bound to take them in simply because they shiver a bit on the ground. Most of them have never seen epilepsy and they insult those who genuinely suffer but they have chatted to each other about this and it’s how they get to the alcohol gel; that’s what they want. Wine and beer just doesn’t cut it any more.

I couldn’t convince him to leave the area, so the police were called and he instantly got better when they arrived. That’s another thing; they all know that our uniform means nothing in terms of consequences for their behaviour. The officers moved him along and he practically leaped off on his broken leg…in the opposite direction in which his poor pregnant wife was supposedly languishing in hospital. I feel ashamed that I didn’t provide this man with the medical care and comfort that he so obviously needed at my expense.

Then his mate tries to pull the same stunt further down the road. I was astonished at the gall of him. I guess he thought another ambulance would show up, since I was busy with his friend up the road. He guessed wrong – at that time of day there are few crews available, so I was sent to him and stayed on scene until I was late.
An off-duty A&E nurse and his female friends helped me (they were the ones who'd found him) as I tried to persuade him to stop the act and go away...somewhere else. He was determined, however and I had to go throught the motions because I knew that an ambulance weasn't coming any time soon. I put fluids up in the hope that it would rinse out his blood and wake him up. It certainly made him more alert and he communicated for a short while but not to my benefit and I continued to see the hour slip past, making me even later.
The dancing Panda (she won't mind really) helped me by holding his vital fluids aloft and I flet sorry for her arms, aching as they must have been for the welfare of a man who couldn't care less.
Then he decided he needed another drink and helped himself to more cheap wine from one of his bottles. That was the last straw. I unplugged him from everything and requested police. He had no clinical need of me and had been playing the game he always plays.
Two cops showed up and lifted/dragged him away to another, less public place so that he could act out the final act of his drama...the sleeping drunk with no soul.

Be safe.


VA FireMedic said...

Are you meaning to tell me that you as a paramedic can refuse care/transport to someone who calls the emergency number?!? If only they trusted us in the USA to do such things, then I wouldn't be wasting my time on the same person who at current, has called 911 over 100 times already this year (but we can't refuse to take her, its against the law).

Auntie Jane said...

What an utter waste of your time when there are people who genuinely need your help.

I live out in the sticks (the Fens), and we are isolated. My husband has heart problems & is also diabetic. I've had to dial 999 a good few times and am very grateful for the rapid help we've had.

Keep up the good work and don't let the bu**ers get you down.

manu said...

Hey Xf,

am halfway through enjoying your book. no wait, thats not right.. am halfway through your book and enjoying it! .. yeah thats more like it :-D

I got a question about the drug overdose cases that you handle. If possession of illegal drugs is, well, illegal. then isnt it the same case if you come across a drug overdose patient? do you in these cases have to refer to the police during/after care? or is that up to the hospital?

the question just popped into my head. It just seems like such a monumental waste of my tax money if its going to be used to make a junkie feel better. atleast they should be made to bear the consequences of their actions.

er this was supposed to be just a simple question...but I digress.

jonny said...

hi, im a trainee paramedic also working for the LAS, I was wondering if you had an email address i could contact you on or something as i had some questions regarding my training and I wanted unbiased views of frontline staff,thanks

jonny said...

hi, i posted earlier (student paramedic), i forgot to leave the option for you if you wanted to contact me you could on, thankyou

Sue said...

If the finger probe thingy shows a low heart rate, do you recheck on another finger/manually check it too? Just that I was in A&E yesterday and the wee machine was beeping away saying my heart rate was 41... When I pointed out that this wasn't likely to be right, the nurse checked again and it was actually 122. Got to love modern technology!

miss emma said...

Great post as usual! Just wondering if there will be a new pole coming up soon? I love to vote on things!

Xf said...

va firemedic

It's not against the law here and I can make a clinical judgment. However, if a patient insists on going, I have no choice - human rights and all that...

Xf said...

auntie jane

You're not my REAL auntie, are you?

Thanks for the comment. I'm keeping a smile on my face...

Xf said...


Technically you are right but, to be honest, the cops just have too much to do and the paperwork wouldn't be worth the effort. Also, YOU and I fund these people to an extent and I for one am not prepared to pay more taxes getting them arrested every time they try to kill themselves.

Xf said...


My email is on the blog, mate. Contact me via

Xf said...


I feel the pulse too and if it doesn't correlate, I assume my probe isn't working 100% or there are other factors..

Xf said...

miss emma

I'm having a nightmare of a time getting the poll function to work properly. I haven't had time to update it but I will as soon as I can...