I find it interesting when people say to me ‘oh I could never do your job’. As a paramedic, a lot of people assume my job involves saying lives day in and day out, going to horrible car wrecks and being there at peoples worst possible moments. While this is part of the job, this certainly isn’t the majority. There is a lot of waiting around. It’s not exactly the kind of job where you can go and create work to do. In that waiting time we make sure we are up to date with our skills and knowledge; there is constant study and revision. Medicine changes, all the time. There is always more research being done to help us do our jobs better.
So a typical day for me at work, like today, involves me rushing to drop Alexander to day care then get to work by 7am. I stock my vehicle for the day with items I may need, drugs I may need to use and equipment that could be required. I call over the radio to our communications centre to let them know that my vehicle is operational and that I am here and ready to go. Then I wait. Some days we could be so busy that I don’t get back to station, I may not even get to eat lunch or have a break. Others I may not turn a wheel for the entire day. I work in a small rural town and quiet days are far more common than busy ones. I have also worked in a busy city before where every day was jam packed and full on. I have to admit, there are some days when I miss being busy. I spend time with student paramedics too, helping them learn the skills they need to do the job, answering questions and mentoring them. It’s not the kind of job you can learn from a text book, you need to experience it to understand it. I may do a job or two in a day, perhaps treat a patient with chest pain or a child that has fallen over at a school and grazed their knee. These are our usual standard jobs. Then there are days where there is nothing standard, a day when you’ll get a job that challenges you, makes you work hard and think even harder, when every skill you have will be tested. These are the days that keep me coming back.
I’ll never forget one evening at work a few years ago. We hadn’t done a job all day, I was 9 hours into my 10 hour shift and was fully expecting this to be another whole day without a single job. Then the pager went off – we were being sent code 1 (lights and sirens – our fastest response to a generally [potential] life threatening condition). Our job was a 9 year old girl having an asthma attack. It was winter at the time so we recent had an influx of respiratory conditions and this was looking like it may have been another one. My partner for the day (a man who started working as a paramedic 3 months before I was born, this guy had seen everything) jumped in the driver’s side of the ambulance and we were off. The house wasn’t too far from the station and on our way there I quickly checked the drug dosages for a 9 year old – just to be sure.
We arrived at the house and no one was there to greet us, which usually happens when people are panicked or really worried. We headed up the stairs and knocked on the door ‘Hello, it’s the Ambulance’ I called out. I received a grunted ‘come in’ in return from what sounded like an older female. I walked into the house and it was a mess, there were food scraps everywhere and cockroaches having the time of their lives, there was animal dander all over the place and a general mess and stench that came with a house that was not very well looked after. ‘In here’ the voice called again and we trudged on through to the lounge room. I saw the young girl in the corner, sitting on a lounge with a nebuliser mask over her face – a quick visual assessment of her caused no alarm, she was breathing well, had good colour, acknowledged my presence and seemed to be aware of what was going on. I looked for a place to put my bags that carried our supplies but there was no place that seemed either clean or free from food scraps. I went over to the little girl and started carrying out my assessment while my partner asked the parents what had been happening. They stated that she has a history of asthma and anxiety and today her father had been teasing her so she had been getting quite anxious. This evening it became worse and she started having an asthma attack. She was on all of the usual medications and her mother gave them to her, which was the nebuliser we had seen her with. I switched it over to our oxygen bag and added our drugs to the nebuliser mask. Further assessment of the girl showed that she was having a mild asthma attack, she was still breathing well and was able to talk to me clearly. We decided she needed to be seen at hospital anyway and started to assist her to the stretcher that was waiting outside for her.
When we started moving the young girl she became even more anxious, screaming out ‘I’m going to die’ repeatedly. I did my best to keep her calm ‘you aren’t going to die sweet heart, just keep taking deep breaths, it’s going to be okay, let the medicine work’. Nothing I did would calm her down. Her heart rate started going up, beep, beep, beep, went the monitor, faster and faster. As we loaded her into the back of the ambulance I knew something was wrong, she looked very panicked. She clutched at the mask on her face and tore it off. I saw her eyes were bulging in fear. Then I saw that she wasn’t breathing anymore, she had deteriorated so fast that she could no longer move any oxygen at all. I grabbed my drug kit, I could hear the beeps from the monitor slowing down. I gave the young girl an injection of adrenaline, then grabbed the oxygen bag and ventilating her, I was breathing for her.
The caduceus my parents gave me when I started as a paramedic over 5 years ago.
I have never worked a shift without wearing it.
All of this happened in seconds, my partner was helping the little girls mother into the passenger seat of the ambulance at the time. I called out to him ‘we need to move fast, we need to transport hot (code 1) and can you call the hospital and let them know we have a 9 year old girl in respiratory arrest coming in’. Everything started moving faster then, my heart rate included. I continued to ventilate the girl, I could see that what I was doing was working and that the adrenaline was starting to take effect. He heart rate started to rise again, back to a normal pace. We arrived at the hospital and I continued to breathe for the little girl, I told the nurses and doctor the particulars of the case. They recognised the patient – they had seen her before for severe asthma, she once had a complete cardiac arrest out the front of the hospital. Her parents failed to mention this when we asked if she had any previous medical history.
The hospital was as a small country one so we stayed and helped the nurses and doctor treat the patient. The adrenaline had started to work and she was able to start breathing on her own, it was nowhere near adequate so I continued to help her breathe. For another 40 minutes we helped treat this girl, things were looking good and it looked like she was starting to breathe well again. All the medication was working.
I left the room to go and complete my paperwork, we have detailed reports to write for each job we go to. It took me around 30 minutes to finish my report, there was a lot to write about. After I was done I went back into the room to see how my little patient was going. I walked in and couldn’t believe it. She was sitting up and looking around. This girl, just one hour ago was fighting for her life, I was breathing for her and giving her drugs that would literally save her life. I was amazed. I introduced myself to her ‘Hi, I’m Krystal. I’m one of the paramedics that looked after you, do you remember?’ She smiled and nodded, ‘thank you’ she said. I still couldn’t believe it.
There aren’t many times when you can say that you actually saved someone’s life. This was one of the times when my actions, what I did for this little girl, saved her life. It is a feeling like no other. It’s funny, it’s something people expect that we, as paramedics, do this day in day out, and it is something that you associate with the job. But when it does happen… there are no words to describe it.
So when people say to me ‘oh I could never do your job’ I simply smile and tell them ‘I could never do anything else’.