an ambos life

What really lies within?

What really lies within?

Frank was the most racist person I had ever met. He didn’t swear all the time but he always added such language to his many crude comments. People seemed to just accept that this was how it was with Frank. I was apparently supposed to as well.

I only knew Frank around the station so could only rate him on that much. There wasn’t a human on the planet, possibly other than those who were at least second generation Australian born of English descent, who wouldn’t come into his sights. He used all the common insulting names, and a few of his own making, to offensively describe everyone. Fair to say, I didn’t like Frank and probably wasn’t alone. Frank was very ‘old school’ and not a product of the new ‘ambulance college’ era. As a member of that new era, I was subject to his vitriol as well.

Perhaps, surprisingly, I could try to defend, or rather explain Frank’s attitude. A few years earlier Frank had been a soldier fighting in a war in Vietnam. He’d seen some things and lived through some stuff that had likely left an indelible impression on his very core. Maybe he had already been like this, racist and offensive. I didn’t know him then so cannot say. I did know though that others had also been over there and many had come back and become ambos. They weren’t like Frank.

Imagine then my sinking heart when Frank and I appeared rostered together for a month. A whole month of comprehensive vilification, mostly at least contained within the ambulance cabin or station and not actually delivered to the outside world. What a long month this was going to be with me, barely a second year student ambo, in no position to speak back.

Imagine further, the complete despair I felt when I heard our radio dispatch us to a callout in the heartland of an area dominated in numbers by, you guessed it, Vietnamese. All the way there I wondered, no dreaded what Frank would say or do. Maybe the people wouldn’t be Vietnamese at all? Maybe we might be sent to another, more urgent callout somewhere else?

No escape was to be found as we did arrive at the address. Racist remark unleashed about someone we passed who I didn’t even see. The building is high rise and our call is on a higher floor. An offensive remark is released to describe numerous aspects of the building and what we might find inside.

With bags in hand I follow Frank into the foyer. Now he really begins to heat up as we realise that the tiny lift is out of order. Enraged and inflamed he unleashes more remarks. I look quickly around and nobody seems to be close enough to have heard. At least he doesn’t yell out his vitriol. Right now I find myself torn between not going up with him so as to avoid the unbearable carnage that surely must soon unfold or trying to get ahead of him and establish a favourable contact first. Traipsing up a dozen floors of staircase my anxiety builds to a soaring crescendo for what awaits us all in the next few moments.

We find the door to the flat open and a tiny Vietnamese woman bows and ushers us in. The smell of Asian cooking greets us and for a brief moment I saviour it. Promptly I return back noting that this will be just one more prod to arms for Frank. Mercifully he is silent for comment at this point.

On the lounge room floor another woman cradles the head of a young girl of around twenty years of age. Language is a problem. Frank blindsides me completely when he kneels before a small child and begins to ask polite questions. Maybe five years old or thereabouts, the child speaks excellent English and now begins a multi-way interpreter system between patient, child and other women in the room. Well picked Frank.

Frank even says something in Vietnamese to the woman cradling the girl’s head. She nods and smiles appreciatively. What is going on here? Frank is talking to a Vietnamese child, smiling and amazingly speaking in their language, albeit briefly. He is being interested, concerned even. He is supportive and compassionate. Racist, offensive Frank is running rings around what would have been my own best intentioned efforts if I were in his place.

Taking from the discussions, I manage to work out that the girl is pregnant but has been bleeding heavily this evening. There seems little doubt that she has lost the baby. Looking at her face I can see that her medical problems are probably not her most pressing concern. Her young grieving heart was a much more pressing problem for us all. She was, like so many Vietnamese, stoic in a crisis. However the welling tears betrayed the truth. This callout needed our finest sensitivity, our best work, and I did not think that meant Frank.

But I was wrong. Mercifully and thankfully wrong. Frank knelt and picked the girl up in his arms, explaining to her that we would take her to hospital. She was only a tiny little thing. He smiled reassuringly at the girl and had the young child interpret for everyone what was happening.

As a group we all followed Frank and the diminutive girl still in his arms. We approached the broken lift and, as I was about to remind Frank, he walked straight past to the stairwell. We paced downward twelve floors with Frank cradling the girl whilst his entourage followed. I took notes all the way to hospital as to what true kindness really looked like, even if it was coming from the most unlikely source imaginable.

As we both got back into the ambulance to depart the hospital, Frank finished his paperwork, sat back and relaxed. Outside on the street you could see a group of local lads walking nearby. An offensive remark muttered from his mouth clarifying Frank’s opinion of them for me in case I was wondering. The other Frank was back sure enough. For me, nothing was certain or clear in the world right now. But you just never know sometimes what really lies within some people.

Jeff Kenneally

prehospital ambulance medical trauma emergencies

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