an ambos life

The top five best things about being an ambo–number three

You can make a difference in someone else’s life

The young mother sat on the bed cradling her infant. Visibly distressed, she eyed us imploringly as we entered the bedroom. Two other children stood beside her. The elder of the two, a boy of about seven or eight, spoke first. He called the ambulance because his mother wouldn’t stop crying about his infant sister. Thinking the worst for a moment, I asked her if I could hold her infant. She handed the tiny form to me and my heart soared as I saw she was still alive. Clearly very sick, with bronchiolitis as we found, but alive. We quickly established that the mother was born with an intellectual disability. The father of the children had left her a while back after deciding he didn’t want a third child. Gazing around her small home she was clearly struggling to look after the children. The pot of bolognaise sauce on the stove and the ironing board suggested she certainly tried. The eldest child seemed to be stepping up as ‘the man of the house’. We had a medical problem as our entry point here but there were much bigger problems to work through. I handed the child to my partner indicating to carry her out to the ambulance and start some basic care. Turning to the mother, her lips trembling, I took her hand and reassured her we were taking the child to the hospital for help. She asked me if she was a good mum. I told her she was a great mum looking after her kids like she was. We packed a few things for the infant. We walked around the flat as we left, turning off the stove and locking the back door. Still holding her arm we walked to the ambulance. She was smiling now, completely trusting. Soon she would be plugged into not only medical help, but also the outside world that she had been cut off from but so badly needed.

The very kindly elderly lady apologised to us again. That must have made at least five or six times now. I assured her again this is what ambulances were for. Her husband of forty years lay on the floor of his bedroom. He wasn’t a big man but he was twice her weight. He had suffered a stroke a couple of years earlier leaving him with a dense paralysis on one side and unable to speak. His moods could turn wildly between calm and anger. He could neither dress himself nor control his toilet needs. A bad combination in anyone’s language. Putting him back to bed would have been easy enough, he had simply taken one of his many falls. But this was a much bigger problem for them both. We needed to involve the outside world much more as, unquestionable intent aside, the lady could not cope alone. As we discussed this with her she finally broke and cried. Being reassured that this was not a failing on her part were words she needed to hear. She could not fail him now after all these years. Already noticing there was no light in the bedroom, I saw she had also been fumbling in a darkened kitchen. There was a front porch light so there was power. What was the problem? She brought in a number of new light bulbs and explained that she had not been able to climb a chair to change them. One by one they were going out. We took them from her and walked around the house replacing all the bulbs. Then we dressed her husband for her. Then we made some telephone calls.

The doctor gave us a brief handover as we arrived at his clinic, telling us he thought the small boy in his room had epiglottitis. He had left the child a moment, nursed by his father, to call us. He thought the boy close to no longer being able to breathe. With that, the father suddenly cried out for help. Entering the room first my eyes widened at the limp form in his arms. Arms hanging downward, unmoving, face the colour of my navy blue uniform. He held out the child and I grabbed him hurriedly. He was on the floor for only seconds as the tiny ventilator bag came out and covered his face. I pushed in a breath, then another then another. There was resistance as the swollen epiglottis tried to deny his little lungs any air. But some got past. Another breath, another. Thirty seconds passed or a minute maybe. The kids arm began to move. His chest moved as he tried to breathe again himself. It could not have run any closer and still had a happy ending. Seventeen years later the ambulance service received a letter in the mail. They young boy had just had his twenty first birthday. His parents still recalled the day when he could have been robbed of this.

On the list of things that are my five best things about being a paramedic, number three is the incredible opportunities that arise to make a difference in someone else’s life.

Jeff Kenneally

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