Business over, standing about like the father of the bride at the wedding – we’ve handed over our charge. We were *it* for an hour, everything that the weeping parents in the room held dear rested in our hands and now we’re extra baggage. We confirm with the team in resus that there’s nothing further we can do, I apologise to one nurse for snapping at her.
We sidestep the parents for now.
As we walk back to the ambulance there’s a lot of physical contact, shoulders punched and clapped. We make a laughing show of wiping our damp palms before shaking hands and nodding – “Good job, thankyou.”
The contact unifies us, reinforces the “us-ness” of the team.
We are three, we dealt with something horrible.
It’s still horrible, there is no euphoric victory, no moment to laugh at a little face on the bed, tousle their hair and chide them, grinning, for making us sweat.
The face on the bed in that room has a mask clamped to it, stabbing fingers holding its airway open, a nurse squeezing air into lungs that count their years in single figures.
We are three.
We sit, one types, the other two chip in with recalled details, debated discrepancies. It’s almost a debrief. The job runs and reruns. We thank the probationer for hurtling, unquestioning, around the scene in the house as we clipped instructions. Move this. Pass me that. Wire this up. Park my car. Give me the phone. Start driving, soft as morning snow but fast as fuck, please.
She smiles – “I was sweating…”
We were all sweating.
Somebody cracks a joke, it’s a vital part of the system. Never at the expense of the patient and often directed at a colleague.
The target retaliates and the situation escalates, the jabs are foul, obscene. You’re a deviant. She’s a whore. So’s your Mum. Aye, but she said you were shite.
It’s puerile and offensive and how we tell each other that everything’s ok – “If we thought you were a wank we’d never take the piss out of you.”
Paperwork to resus and a quick run-down from the consultant as to the plan, the prognosis. He has no answers.
Our pulses slowed until we’re sure we won’t say anything stupid, we’re able to talk to the parents, reassure them about the skills of the doctors in the room, wish them all the best, try to meet their eyes.
Back in the ambulance the crew run me back to my car while I phone Control and update them – “All three of us need a stress break, we’ve worked our arses off.”
They drop me at my RRU, patiently hunkered outside the house. We thank each other a final time, awkward, everyone appreciating the unspoken sentiment. It’s not quite “dodged a bullet”, more that it clipped us and we limped back to safety.
I turn up the tunes on the stereo and sing along, loud and fierce, my arms tingling and twitching. There’s no need to sit somewhere and weep, there is nothing to weep for and it would do no good anyway. This isn’t grief, it’s potential energy. Unleashed it would manifest as a scream, a shout.
If a punter took a swing at me, I think I’d go through them.
Stress breaks aren’t there to make you feel better, that takes a lot longer than half an hour in the mess room; they’re there to straighten your head out and ensure the remnants of the last job don’t spill into the next.
Your next patient needs you sharp and clear, switched on, not chewing on the details of what-might-have-been.
That’s what the break is for, the cup of tea, the filthy humour.
It’s how you keep doing what you do, and how you make sure you’re ready to do it all over again once the 30 minutes is up.