an ambos life

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

You can make a difference in a colleague’s life

The young paramedic held the laryngoscope handle with its protruding blade inserted deeply into the mouth of the unconscious patient. She looked up at me, face a mixture of nervousness and frustration. “All I can see is a great epiglottis, I can’t see anything else.” I knelt down beside her taking in the difficulty. Let’s reposition the patient’s head differently. She helped as I chatted to her why. I suggested a change to how she used the laryngoscope. More chat why. She reattempted the inspection again. A moment later an almost exulted shriek. “I can see cords.” I asked her if she could pass the tube between the cords. Handing it to her, she pushed the tube down into the trachea.

The paramedic university student sat in the station training room surrounded by open textbooks and a notepad. Poking my head inside the door I asked him what he was up to. He frowned then told me he was trying to get his head around heart failure. “Ah,” I replied, “important. Get your head around that and you have your head around two thirds of the cardiac course.” Then I suggested that maybe he wasn’t a book sort of person. We wandered over to the whiteboard. An hour later, several square metres of marker scrawl, his summation back sounded like poetry.

The patient had a horrible fracture dislocation of the ankle. The paramedic managing the patient was young but certainly looked like he knew what he was doing. I sat and watched quietly with no need to add anything to his methods. He wrapped the ankle deftly in a pillow splint. Then as I watched he laid out his intravenous equipment in an orderly fashion on a clean pillow case. Curiously I watched thinking this was just how it should be done. My partner knew the paramedic well and joked freely with her as he helped load the patient into the ambulance. His conversation, a chatty remark, betrayed that he had once been her clinical instructor. In turn, I chortled, I had been his. I was watching my ‘grandchild’ at work and seeing the clear DNA legacy.

Most of the ambos waiting at the emergency department seemed occupied in some way. One, sitting in the ambulance bay, sat quietly on the back step of her ambulance. Hi. How’s your night going? Who’d you bring in? The usual stuff. The reply was not the usual stuff. She had apparently underestimated how sick a patient was and felt embarrassed and disappointed in herself when the intensive care crew came and took over from her. Unfortunately they hadn’t time to discuss the matter. But I did. We pulled the job apart. She hadn’t done too badly at all. Most of us have been caught out in one way or another. I had. She had tried her best and was now being way too hard on herself. This job is full of mine fields. As a crew they had worked it out with no harm. That is how a team works. She learned something for next time and felt better about this time.

A paramedic’s world is one of the most challenging and confronting you can live in. My number two best thing about being a paramedic is that it isn’t just about helping strangers. Sometimes you get to pass on the baton and be part of the journey for those following. It is a terrific feeling to watch someone at work and realise you had some role in developing or refining what they are doing. To watch someone making a difference on the job and see your own hand in it. You realise you might be making a difference at callouts you’ll likely never know about. Best of all, you get to care for each other. No ambo wants to fail any patient, even a tiny bit. That is a heavy can and frequently needs another to help lift the weight.

Jeff Kenneally

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