Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Mickey's dead

I watched a mouse dying today. Yes... a mouse. Scruffs had caught it and was playing with it, but I took it from him and put it into a bucket so that I could chuck it into the field behind my house. I've given many a mouse a second chance by doing this. This one however, well, he was feisty and he managed to clamber up and out of the bucket before I had a chance to stop him. He obviously didn't trust my intentions.

He plopped onto the grass and ran for his life, but Scruffs was on him again and he was pawed to a stand-still. I told my cat to let him go and he did (Scruffs is generally obedient, believe it or not - he sits on command), but the mouse made a fatal mistake - he dashed away from the safety of me and my bucket. He ran straight into Scruff's path again, and this time Scruffy boy was having him. He grabbed him in his mouth and made to escape into the house with it.

I managed to get him to drop the little thing though and I picked it up and saw straight away that it was limp and weak. Scruffs hadn't pierced his body with his teeth; he rarely does that, but I guess the crush of his mouth had been enough to cause internal damage.

But I thought the little thing may also be playing dead, because they do that. I put him on the ground and watched him. His breathing was shallow and quick, and when I dropped him to the ground, his little paws jerked out, as if he was scared of the fall... or wanted to be kept out of harm's way. Then he just lay there, eyes open, and began to gasp in long, crying breaths. I recognised this. I've seen humans do it. It's called agonal breathing and it's the last thing that any breathing creature will do before they die.

I watched as he opened his little mouth and silently screamed, time and time again, over and over... and then he just stopped. His eyes never closed and he never looked in pain but he clearly was.

Why am I telling you this? I'm telling you this because as I watched him die, I felt more emotion for him than I have done recently for people.

I've had a bad year, and you all know that, but I don't deserve anything for it because there are plenty of people having bad years... and some having much, much worse. But my year has helped me focus on what's really important and it's helped me see the futility of trying to educate the public about how not to abuse their emergency ambulance service. It's hardened me against those who deliberately destroy their lives when there has never been the threat of a cat to kill them, against a backdrop of children and babies who have terminal illnesses and whose parents are living only in the shadow of inevitability for a loss that will be so great that they cannot fathom life for themselves any longer.

I'm not giving up and I'm not clinically depressed... but I am changing my mind about things.

I went out tonight. I went to a gig ('Battle of the bands') that was specially organised by my colleagues for my colleagues and in aid of charity. I spent a few hours drinking with them, laughing with them and listening to music produced and performed by them. It was great fun and a sobering reminder to me that I am not part of a company, or an organisation. I am part of a family. Every one of the people I saw tonight (the club was almost exclusively full of London Ambulance staff) do the same job as me. The fact that I write this blog and have done other things is completely irrelevant. These people also have to deal with the reality of the job, day in, day out. They know that there is no answer and never will be. Certain members of the public will always abuse their emergency services; they care not a jot that we care.

I listened-in to a call recently in which a man had dialled 999 for help because he was in pain. From the very start he was aggressive, abusive and very threatening towards the call-taker. The call-taker remained calm and professional against a tirade of swearing, animosity and direct threats. The man even threatened to punch the first medical person he saw. This was simply because he had toothache and we hadn't sent him an ambulance as a matter of priority.

Someone's 83 year-old grandmother was lying on the floor, unable to get up. She'd been there for hours waiting for us because we were tied up with other 'emergency' calls, and this guy didn't care to know, even when that was being explained to him by the polite call-taker.

I love my job. I believe my colleagues love their jobs - they must do, because they could apply to drive a train and earn a hell of a lot more and take a hell of a lot less abuse.

Christmas is coming. It's the season you all know makes my blood boil, because it's when the worst of people come out of the rotting woodwork of society. Lawyers, doctors, City bankers and a host of other 'respectable' professions will get drunker than normal, and will pile abuse, vomit and spit onto us. Please, read the mouse story again.  Try to understand what happens to people when they live the prediction of such things.

I recently noticed that someone gave me a less than flattering review for 'Life & Death on The Streets', (a professional moaner, judging by the number of other books he's also whined about) and, to be honest, I don't care because that's the name of the game. But he described me as 'just another gobby ambulance person', or something very similar. He went on to describe how I did the usual moaning about the state of things in my profession. I realised that this critic was probably not in the ambulance service, or anything at all to do with the NHS. His or her opinion is that we should all just shut up and 'do our jobs'... as many others out there think. But this isn't just a job, it's a vocation; you either love it or you don't, and for all of us... me and my colleagues, after years of abuse and violence and assaults; years of pandering to those who think they need us but do not, and a mini-lifetime of the same old faces doing the same old things to get to hospital - I think we have earned the right to be gobby.

Me, my emotions, my colleagues and one dying mouse have kicked me back into reality.

Be safe.


Starblade said...

It's sad how some people just don't (and never will) "get" it, that they are not the centre of the universe and, while police, ambulances etc... are services there to help them, they don't have to drop everything for them. Sadly it seems like there are more and more people like this, in every sector of work, though I know the emergency services get more than their fair share.

Just remember that, despite the tidal wave of inconsiderate, foul-mouthed, selfish people that is flooding in, there is a whole lot more of the people that quietly thank people like you and your colleagues every day for whatever help you've been able to give.

Mrsmandymoo said...

Hi Stuart.
Thanks for writing this post. Im a RN, and I can really relate to what you've written. animals suffering often affects me more than human suffering.
Articles on unwanted animal euthanasia make me cry- but trauma stories? no.

I have had a large amount of grief in my life, having had quite a few family members die over the years- both expected and unexpectedly.
Im an 'orphan' at the ripe old age of 38.. and I honestly think I block most of my feelings towards humans in general as a coping mechanism.
My father was 88 when he died, and his death is still close enough in time that I see him, in many of my dying, elderly male patients.
It's stunted my grief process, as I still need to be able to be there for my patients.
I have had my two old dogs die in the last 2 years as well- and I have possibly found it easier to grieve for them than him.

I feel that nursing has taken something from me permanently, and made me somewhat hard.
Given that I do not nearly suffer the amount of abuse that you do, as a nurse and working in Australia, I can't even imagine what your job would do to me.
You are a heck of a person just for staying sane.

Thankyou for sharing this, as it has reminded me to continue to persue my humanity. It also humbles me greatly.

In the end, though nursing has taken something from me it has also given; that feeling of a worldwide family, similar to your Ambulance family.
Nurses can always talk no matter where they come from.
Also- there is a sense of pride in me, being a nurse.
I feel it the most when I have made a difference in someone's day and eased their suffering.
I guess Im not as hard as I thought.
thanks again.

Liv said...

This won't mean anything at all coming from a complete stranger, but I have huge respect for paramedics (and for the medical profession in general), and (ok, maybe I'm being naive) it makes me sad that people feel the need to be rude and abusive to people who try to help.

My mum died on 29th August, just after she turned 54, from pancreatic cancer. I know a lot of people have been through much worse, and I was lucky to have my mum for the 22 years I did, many people don't get that chance. But it was still a huge shock, and no one expected it to happen when it did. On the day it happened we had a rapid response paramedic and two paramedics in an ambulance round because her blood sugar was so low, but because no one knew things were so bad, they had to take her to A&E and not the hospice. For them I don't suppose they have thought twice about it since, because it's just what they do. But for us, having them there was a huge help. The rapid response paramedic especially spent such a long time with my mum and looked after her so gently, he was so reassuring to her. And I will never forget them, it's a huge comfort to me personally now knowing that there were people trying to help and trying to help my mum feel better.

I didn't mean to ramble quite so much as this, and I'll probably delete this soon anyway! But I just wanted to say full respect to anyone who can do the things paramedics do on a daily basis, despite the fact that some idiots won't appreciate it.

meninyellow said...

This has struck a real chord with me. By day I am customer service manager for a government agency. This afternoon I was sworn at repeatedly by a lawyer whilst I was trying to solve his problem, which was mainly of his own making, in a professional manner. He would not listen to my request for him to also act professionally. As a society we really need to make these people see that this sort of behaviour is unacceptable

Xf said...


You didn't ramble and it was much appreciated. I'm truly sorry for your loss


Xf said...


Thanks for that. Now I see that I'm not the only one. You sound like a decent, caring person to me.

Xf said...

Starblade (cool name and logo)

Yes, thanks. I know that the vast majority of people know what we are there for and actually appreciate it; as I do with the services I use and don't abuse.

I'm still positive about things thankfully :-)

Danté said...

The comment will have my dog's name on cos I dunno how to swap from his blog name to my real name. You've helped me a lot over the past while, you've kindly taken time to answer some questions and explain some things to me. For that I am very grateful because it goes above and beyond.

Having read your blog and book I only have a tiny appreciation of exactly what you have to face on a daily basis. The accounts of the abuse that you experience from members of the public truly disgust me. Sadly, I think you are right. No matter how much education goes out to teach people about how to use the 999 system in a proper manner there will always be individuals who believe it is their right to abuse both the system and the people providing care.

You may not make the connection between this comment and our previous communication, that's ok. Just know that when I need to be picked up and cared for by any of your Scottish colleagues (that may become more frequent as my illness progresses) I will always do my utmost to remain polite and respectful of them, just as they and you do when confronted with the dregs of society.

I cried about the mouse, I cry about the shameful behaviour of some humans. Thank you for what you do.


Xf said...


Thank you.

I almost cried for that mouse too.

Mrsmandie said...

I dont know why people think that they will get better service by acting like a complete idiot! Sometimes i wish i was just a bystander and not in the profession, but then i think about God and know that I will be judge, too and remember to be my best. But what is worse is when you see someone in our profession act like them. Espically in front ot patients that dont deserve in the slightest depth of a curse word. Get a new job. your right We do what we do because we love it and thats why we can handle the idiots...