It takes a fair bit to rile me, to scratch this smiley patina and expose the hungover howler monkey within. But one word will do it, one word is my hair trigger, the blue touch paper on my supa-fly TNT, mutha-fucker.
The public insist on using it to describe patients who aren't responding normally.
“He's taking a turn, son…”. In my experience patients who are taking turns have been convulsing.
Or smacked off their chops.
Or having a haemhorragic CVA.
They might be acting funny because they're drunk.
Or they might be dead.
The word means precisely nothing, and yet it still gets passed to us -“Pt having funny turn – making strange noises.”
What kind of strange noises? People who are choking on their vomit make strange noises, but then, so did Sade and nobody ever crashed HER in for an emergency CT.
(I haven't checked this out. If Sade has ever needed an emergency CT, I'm going to look like a proper heartless cunt. I'm not going to check though, because my interest in incorporating an 80s pop culture reference into a point of humour about brain injuries is too great. This is my cross, and for you I bear it.)
I accept that callers can't be expected to give medical chapter and verse, but surely the call handlers are allowed to intercept this loathsomely vague phrase?
They do it for other jobs, we don't get sent to “Some boy's chibbed this cunt a fuckin' sair yin, like, an' there's blood pishing aw ower ma new suite.”
Although, to be fair, there have been occasions when I've felt that the call handlers probably could do with editing the complaint somewhat.
I have in the past been despatched to “male, really, really, really drunk.” and on one memorably hilarious occasion “male assaulted by whores and junkies”. The latter was changed rapidly, I'm assuming by a more experienced member of control staff who saw it come up and said “You cant send a crew to THAT!”
A turn can be the last minutes of your life, or left at home with a call to the GP in the morning.
Will I be hoovering vomit from your lungs, or putting you back to bed with a Rich Tea?
If I'm honest the reason I hate the word so vehemently is because it disarms me; it gives no indication of what gear I need to take or be in while approaching the job.
We're trialling a mechanical CPR device. Imagine an ironing board that you lie the patient on and it does chest compressions for you.
We tried it on resusci annies, then we tried it on full size dummies.
And then we took it to the fire college and hauled their 80kg rescue dummies up and down a six storey training tower, all soot and stairs and haunted leaning furniture, while the machine hammered on their sternums a hundred times a minute.
People always complain that we don't test gear “where you'll use it, in a high flat, or down a stairwell.”
We tested it.
Then, three days ago, I hauled ass to a cardiac arrest and strapped it across the chest of a woman who we all suspected wouldn't make it out of the house, let alone to hospital.
And it cramped and squeezed her chest and poured blood into her heart muscle which began to twitch and then beat as normal.
And that heartbeat produced enough blood pressure to push oxygen to her respiratory centres and she started breathing spontaneously.
And instead of leaving a corpse on the landing for the mortuary workers to zip into a black bag and bump down the stairs?
We took a very sick mother, wife and sister to hospital and called her family to come say goodbye.
So, I'm at at the Queen's Garden Party (as a medic, not a guest, though it's a rather lovely opener to any story) when Jax sneezes.
“Oooh. Bless me.”
“You can't solicit blessings…” begins Sarge “Either people will bless you or not, but you can't go round demanding it.”
Jax looks at Sarge like he's mental.
She's got a point.
But it gets me thinking.
We all know the drill. Someone sneezes and it's considered polite to say “Bless you” or, if you're terribly posh, “God bless you.”
We all know the probably apocryphal origins of the custom, that during the Black Death, a sneeze was one of the earlier symptoms, and to be caught sneezing in public was to alert others to the fact that you were probably about to die in a fireworks cascade of pustules and boils and rats piss (I haven't studied bubonic plague very much…that'll have to do). So people started blessing each other, in the hopes that the Big Yin would drop a urinal block or two in the Thames to negate the nastier effects of old Rattus Norvegus tinkling in the Evian.
I can't help thinking a bottle of Dettol and a green scrubby might have been more effective.
Still, we're left with this ridiculous legacy of invoking a deity whenever someone's nasal airways are irritated and they expel mucus and air at high speed to remove said irritation. Not only is it a custom, it's practically etiquette – people like Jax get upset if you don't offer them the blessings of the almighty just because they haven't taken an anti-histamine this morning.
The thing is, when you fart, or burp, or cough, it's up to YOU to say “Excuse me”, because we recognise that those involuntary actions your body makes have no place in polite company. Largely because they're the sounds associated with expelling something that it doesn't need anymore and have no place lolloping around in polite company.
For some reason sneezing is exempt, like a flatmate who's offended because you pointed out their pubes on your soap, sneezes demand that everyone else makes it all better in the interests of keeping the offending party sweet.
So in the interests of removing this daft anachronisism and avoiding any risk of offence by the summoning of a Judeo-Christian god with a box of Kleenex, I'm advocating a new system which still acknowledges the sneeze and yet is up to date and unlikely to offend.
It simply requires you to point at the sneezer and shout “You sneezed!”
Before you dismiss it, it's marginally less ludicrous than requiring the gods to attend to your sinus drip. I hope they have more important matters to attend to than your snottery beak.
Failing that, if you're still up for pulling celestial beings into your bodily expulsions, I've devised a whole new range of sayings.
For instance, when you've excused yourself from the dinner table to use the bathroom, from now on I think it should be only gracious, on your return, to tell your fellow diners – “Peace be upon you, I shat.”
Also, please feel free to use the following lines in polite company.
“By the grace of Shiva, your tummy is rumbling.”
“May the Buddha smile upon your productive cough.”
“Apollo's flight, true and straight, guide your wee to the porcelain.”
“Pray the angels sing in the key of your queef.”
Obviously, being a etiquette trail blazer can be a lonely business, so I'm going to need you guys to all start using these with immediate effect. Report back, readers.
Today is the first day of a wonderful new era of partnership between farting and heaven.
A touring theatre company asked for a paramedic in the wings for each performance, one of their actors was to be suspended by his ankles for some time and they were nervous the top of his head would blow off.
Each night, after shift end, the day shift team leader would make their way to the theatre and stand in the back stage for an hour, listening to tech cues and watching the scene we were required for.
By the time I caught the whole show as a punter I could mouth along with the actors in our bit.
So I've written in the past about Sweep duties. You can read about my previous adventures here and here and here. I'm not going to lie – the attraction of driving through the desert is one that is largely lost on me. I love the novelty of it, I love the landscape, I love the omnipotence of the sand; much like the Cairngorms, there's a clear message from the terrain that, whoever you are, the landscape will kick your ass if you don't respect it.
But tooling through the sand for 14 hours just because?
Not for me.
If, however, you're the type of person who would LOVE to drive around dunes for hours on end, you want to get in touch with Marina at Living Life To The Full In The Empty Quarter. She blogs about her weekly drives through the sand with some awesome pictures that should make you smile.
This year my day of sweep involved driving out to meet the sweep teams at their accommodation early in the morning,
I'm not great at driving on the wrong side of the road. I'm a pretty good driver in the UK, but a huge amount of the “odd” stuff that we do as emergency drivers happens by instinct. When I'm driving on the wrong side of the road in Edinburgh, it's not that I'm suddenly working on a complete reversal of the rules of the road, but more that I'm operating under an absence of them.
Driving abroad fries my brain, I have to think long and hard every time I make any kind of manoevure, typically chanting “Drive on the right, drive on the right.” to myself whenever I have to navigate a junction or similar. Roundabouts are a fucking nightmare, I simply cannot get my brain to remember that you indicate right to pull off at an exit, rather than to the left.
So the prospect of driving a hundred clicks in a country where the average motorist isn't known for his religious adherence to the Highway Code? And further more where the application of the law can be described as “subjective” by local law enforcement? Was not one that filled my soul with enormous enthusiasm and deep joy.
I was even less reassured when I questioned a colleague on the directions that read “Don't do a U-turn on this bit of motorway…do it at this bit.”
“Because a U-turn there is less illegal,” he answered.
Most irritatingly, James, one of our desert virgins, was due to drive the other truck and was skipping about in the dawn light, singing about convoys and looking for all the world as though the thought of our little sojourn bothered him not a jot.
My concerns notwithstanding, after the opening minutes of gut wrenching terror (including the U turn on the motorway, yes) I have to admit I sort of enjoyed the trip. I even managed to find some suitably Arabian shouty-waily-ululatey music on the AM/FM radio in the cab and barrelled along with one window down, my arm hanging out the side. I was a Middle Eastern trucker.
An hour or so later we made it to Liwa, only slightly behind schedule. Lisa and James hopped into their respective units and headed off into the dust, while I took advantage of the fact that I was Sweep 3 – the last out and the last back, for sure, but that allowed me time to catch a quick cup of coffee in the canteen.
Outside Streaky, my driver for the day, and two other members of his team set to the job of preparing their trucks. Spanners and gaffer tape, filthy jokes and hastily assembled packed lunches, not to mention the traditional slotting of pies into the engine compartments to bake in the sun through the day.
We lost one member of our convoy early on.
We'd all three gone over a lip that led to a fairly heavy hit at the bottom of the bowl Streaky and I were heading onewards when a voice on the radio called us back. The last man in the convoy had taken them same route as us but struck the sand harder than expected, his vehicle taking a sufficiently solid impact to dislodge his bumper and push it backwards a couple of feet. He had no head or neck pain and hadnt struck anything in the cab, but told me he felt “funny”. He was a bit pale, a bit sweaty and his pulse at the radius wasn't awesome. All in all he seemed like a man who'd dumped his blood pressure, probably through the fright of the hard landing. I kept an eye on him for a while until he felt ready to continue but within a few miles he was back on the radio.
“I don't think I'd be smart to carry on…”
Sweep drivers are no wilting violets, so I figured if one was telling me he needed to bail out, then it was as good a diagnostic sign as any.
One problem, how to get him back to the pc point and onto home?
“I reckon I can drive back myself…”
I wasn't thrilled with the idea, but we set up a network for him. He took my cell phone number and we checked that he had a working GPS. As he set off for the PC point (where I knew there'd be an aircraft standing by) I SMSed my SAR colleagues and told them to watch out for him, telling the driver not to leave the PC point until a medic had seen him. We also arranged a fail safe, whereby we estimated how long it would take him to get back, doubled the time and agreed we'd scramble a helo for him if we hadn't heard back.
And with that, as safe as I could make it, I shipped a patient off into the desert under his own steam.
The day was typical sweep, over some brutally unforgiving routes. We grounded and stuck time and again, each time having to dig or tow each other out of the sand. At one point the bottom of one truck got so embedded in a dune that we snapped a tow-line trying to haul it out. It was tested for 11,000 lb.
All day we picked up and dropped off broken down riders, often simply bussing them to the nearest major road where their support teams could rescue them. One chap we collected climbed into the back of the truck and so promptly fell asleep that we forgot he was there; he scared the shit out of us when, miles down the road, a voice from the back seat came out with “Do you have any water?”
It was late afternoon and we were enroute to collect a broken down bike when we crested a rise and found a quad lying on its side in a puddle of fuel, a helmet lay next to it, but no rider. We pulled over and fanned out around the crash site, looking for foot prints, looking for any clue as to the rider's location, recognising that he might be riding out with his support team already. Strange that theyd leave the quad, though, and stranger to leave his lid. I walked back to his quad to kick sand over the spilled fuel and casually picked up the helmet.
Turning it over in my hands the situation suddenly became much more grave. The visor was snapped from its hinge, there were fractures marks along the jaw line and at the back of the helmet an ugly dent was stoved right through to the lining. It wasn't hard to imagine the mechanism; a heavy landing throws your head forwards, smashing first the flimsy sun visor off your forehead and then slamming your chin guard against the handlebars.
You flip forwards and off the quad, but although you've stopped moving after a roll and bounce or two, all four of the quad's wheels are still spinning and propelling it forwards, bouncing and spinning after you “like a fucked off dice” as one rider once described it to me.
There are no big rocks on the road, no kerbs at the side to dent your helmet, so the only explanation for that hole in the side of his lid is that his quad spun into him, hammering a handlebar, or foot plate, or even just a protruding corner of chassis into the back of his head as he lay on the ground, dazed and frightened.
I needed to know where this guy was, right now.
Thankfully my SMS back to control was rapidly answered with the information I wanted to hear. He was in the air, flying hard and low and fast towards a trauma centre. I took photos of the helmet and communicated the damage back to Patch, just in case the receiving crew had missed it; an easy enough point to skip when you're focussed on your patient, but a useful piece of knowledge to have when deciding imaging and treatment options back at hospital.
By the end of the afternoon we'd got stuck again. I was knackered and there was little that could be done without a tow line, so I eschewed a shovel for my camera and backed off to a nearby dune to take the following video, recognising that a photo doesn't always capture the perpetual unending permanence of the sand.
Id like to apologise for my Barry White-esque timbre and gruffness. It was hot, I was dry and tired. I'm normally more melodious.
Every year we spend an evening cutting loose, letting our hair down (which is sometimes tricky, when the best haircut for this environment is a half-all-over) and kicking it to some crazy beats.
Wednesday night. The fancy dress party. This year's theme?
I was born in 1981, so I was kinda tempted to turn up wearing a pair of Osh-Kosh dungarees and eating a Wham bar while inviting people to debate whether Panthra was cooler than Lion-O.
But no, instead I did my normal trick of walking into the awesome costume shop near the university in Edinburgh and saying “80's themed party, Need a costume. Less than £40.”
The lovely woman behind the counter rummaged around before coming up with satin bloom pants, a shoulder padded jacket, dollar sign medallion and oversized shades.
“Wanna be Vanilla Ice?”
Come the Wednesday evening, though, my claims to being Vanilla Ice were quickly shot down by everyone walking up to me and saying “Ooooh! MC Hammer.” respect went to Ed, though, who'd spent several days before the event painting squares onto a cardboard packing crate in a Rubiks pattern, then wrapping said crate in brown paper, packing his gear into it and using it at his luggage.
I hate clever people.
The evening ran on as it typically does, beer flowed, the music struggled to be heard over the associated hubbub (every year we bring shit speakers, every year they don't work), the police officers stationed at the event sat and glowered at our haram dancing, drinking and canoodling and I was just about to turn into my bunk for my 0430 start the next day (sweep duty after the party…yeuch) when we were all gathered into a huddle by the Clerk of the Course.
“I feel it's only right that we recognise the fantastic work that the SAR/MED crew do, and as such this year we've brought along some prizes to thank you for your excellent outfit efforts.”
He worked his way through a number of themes, you know the sort of thing, best male, best female, best dressed, most imaginative deployment of hot pants. People were ushered up to the front where they shook the Clerk's hand and received their prize, a box from a Variety pack of breakfast cereal.
“And now we have the glittering grand prize, the prize that will be issued to Mr or Mrs 80s. It's….a box of Coco Pops.”
The crowd dutifully oohed.
“And the Coco Pops go to…..MC Hammer!”
Slaps on my back, cheers around me. I'm trying to tell them “But I'm Vanilla Ice!” when a hand pushes me to the front of the crowd.
As requested by Utility – a laser and smoke installationin Eindhoven’s Phillips Museum, a room I spent HOURS in running up and down the stairs, setting long exposure times and generally playing around with someone else’s artistic cleverness.
Fun indeed! But mainly only to people who think in time as a long series of fractions of a second.