A day in the life of…..

Observations of a Perpetual Motorcyclist is very excited to introduce a new contributer. Some of you may be familiar with Paul Riley through his long and fascinating career, or through our Skill Master Rider Training post last year, but in this post Paul is giving us an insight into the incredible work done by the NSW Ambulance Service. Quite an eye opening read.

Working as a motorcycle paramedic in Sydney is an honour and privilege. It is also, at times, one of the most stressful jobs you can imagine…

It’s like any other weekday morning, traffic is heavy and slow, everyone looks like they’ve lost their best friend as they sojourn to the office, people seem to miss that the sun is shining and there is clean air to breath.

Cruising through the streets of Surry Hills with the radio crackling in my ear, I focus my attention when my call sign is called for a Code 2 – cardiac arrest in laymen’s language. This always causes the pulse rate to rise immediately as you know you are about to play a part in either someone’s life changing story of survival from the jaws of death, or you are the last port of call before funeral arrangements for some poor family about to begin the grieving process.

When in a conventional ambulance, the journey to such a case is nerve racking and painfully slow as drivers seem intent on slowing you down at every opportunity (not the case but that’s how it feels– the degree of frustration is inversely proportional to the urgency of the case).

On a bike, this stress is quadrupled as you contend with people who don’t see you (yes, even with all the conspicuity in the world– a subject for another time), can’t be bothered getting out of your way, or who angrily yell abuse because you’ve just slowed their already snail’s pace journey. This is true, ask any emergency services person!

But because a bike accelerates so quickly, is more nimble in traffic (even a big bike weighing around 300kg is more nimble than a 3.5 tonne truck), can weave through the smallest gaps, and even use the footpath, you need to be concentrating so hard that by the time you get to something as big as a cardiac arrest, your heart rate has been at or near 200 for at least 5 minutes.

This particular case is in Manly! Manly they said, man that’s a journey! So a trip of 11 minutes is compressed into stopped traffic heading into the city looking on with amazement as you fly down Military Road, and the Spit Bridge, and pedestrians pulling their children back from the edge of the road as you approach because they can’t tell if you’re a good guy or bad guy (even though you have a siren). You get there feeling like you’d like 5 minutes to sit down and get over the trip but that isn’t really a likely scenario.

The real job begins here and as the senior person at most scenes, you have to coordinate the efforts of several others in order to make this work smoothly. Drug dose calculations, intubation, cannulation, shocks to stimulate the heart back to life, dealing with distraught family, aggressive people (mostly because they don’t know what to do and take out their frustration on you), all this is now the priority.

It’s amazing how often people will say “you look and sound so calm when all that is happening.” If only they could see inside my head! But you do get used to the stress and can focus on the moment’s needs as you grow into your role. It’s keeping that ’professional distance’ that becomes hard after a while.

So the team of paramedics works on this person but this time around we aren’t going to achieve anything but providing a false hope for the wife of this gentleman. Life bites at times.

I’m returning to the city, with all the traffic now, and get called for a heroin overdose in Redfern. ‘This should be quick’ I think to myself. But dealing with drug affected people is always unpredictable and this case is no exception. You just cop the verbal abuse for taking your time to get there, administer the appropriate drug to counteract heroin’s affects on the nervous system, and get back on the bike.

Thank you doesn’t seem to be a big part of the vocabulary of those who have been at death’s door through a lack of breathing from the narcotic overdose. Oh well, hopefully someone will get through to them before they do it again.

The radio is calling again as I get back to the bike and responding to it sets me on a run of cases that will keep me in the confines of the CBD for hours, but also provide no rest. Some days you just seem to be in the right place at the right time (or is that wrong place and wrong time? Never figured that one out).

A lot of cases you get to don’t even need an ambulance (around 30% in fact) and this is an area where the bikes work well – enabling resources to be redirected more readily.

The rest of the day is spent attending heart attacks, car accidents and everything in between (One of the most bizarre calls I ever attended was a 21 year old lady who couldn’t sleep! It was around 2AM and I said I shared her concern as I couldn’t sleep either because people kept calling us! Didn’t go down too well).

After a twelve hour shift it’s time to head home. Quite often on the way home you will be near an emergency and are called to attend. This works well too but can make the finding people a little more difficult. You get to learn a lot of the city’s streets quickly but often in the ‘burbs it isn’t as easy to find somewhere when you’re travelling quickly and trying to count the third street on the left when someone cuts in front of you and you heave on the brakes. After your heart returns to your chest you think ‘now was that the first or second street?’

Nearing home you feel like you’ve landed back on planet earth and all you’ve just seen and been through was a strange ‘B’ grade movie that held you captive the last twelve hours.

It’s not always like this though, some days are really hard! (Kidding)

To all my former colleagues in the Ambulance Service of NSW, I salute your efforts, keep on keeping on.

Paul Riley

Skill Master Motorcycle Services

© Observations of a Perpetual Motorcyclist, 2012 – 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Observations of a Perpetual Motorcyclist with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

2 responses to “A day in the life of…..

    • We have had them in NSW for some time now, and as you might expect they are only used around the Sydney CBD. They have been trialling them in Victoria but that trial is suspended pending an accident involving a paramedic, which appears to be down to a bad choice of bike. They used three wheel scooters rather than motorcycles. I think South Australia are also looking at introducing them.

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