Familiar yet strange

Ways in which parenting and paramedicine are similar:

1) Dodging bodily fluids is pretty much the primary skill set.

2) Functioning on little to no sleep is the norm.

3) Your google search history would scare a civilian.

4) Your day is completely dictated by someone else. That someone else often over-eggs the severity of the emergency.

5) You often miss breaks.

6) If they can scream they have an airway and are breathing… the quiet ones are the scary ones.

7) There is no point starting anything much while on ‘standby’ as you’ll inevitably be called away by something kicking off.

8) Hunting the source of a suspicious smell becomes an obsession.

9) Night shifts suck.

10) Any shift that ends with everyone breathing is a win.

11) Despite everything it has moments of incredible wonder and joy.

12) A good crewmate is essential. You will keep each other sane. If they feed you well and often they become gods among men.

Right, another call coming in. How many ounces of breastmilk is the prescribed dose for a fractious seven week old? If it’s more than I’ve got then is requesting HEMS overkill? #3amproblems

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Thank you

Thank you to the midwives, the obstetricians, the neonatal nurse practitioner, the paediatricians and the NICU nurses who saved my daughter’s life.

I owe the NHS her life twice over – for helping us conceive and for acting so quickly to save her when the birth did not go quite to plan.

Thank you to my husband who held me and gave me strength while the world felt like it was falling apart, while her heart rate kept dropping, while she did not cry.

Thank you to my daughter who was born a fighter despite having managed to wrap herself up in her cord… twice. Unaware of all the fuss as she lay with her enormous feet tossed casually over the nest of her incubator while her brain was scanned and her breathing assisted.

Thank you to my friends and family who came bringing food, love and a sea of cuddly rodents.

Thank you just doesn’t feel like enough. We were the lucky ones, with the healthiest baby in NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit). A stay of just over 24 hours compared to the weeks and months some parents endure. The lady across from me on the ward (both of us trying to sleep while our babies were in NICU… one floor and a million miles away) wept while telling me about her son but made time to come and see me regularly until we were discharged, to tell me my daughter was beautiful. Her son was born two months early. He could have fit in the palm of my hand but his every feature was perfect. She was so brave.

We will be doing something to support the NICU where my daughter was cared for at some point this year, but if in the meantime anyone wants to donate their website is below:

https://www.grandappeal.org.uk/wards-services-and-departments/neonatal-intensive-care-unit/

It costs around £1000 per day to care for babies in NICU. So that will be our fundraising aim. A drop in the ocean but as I watch my daughter sleeping on her dad’s chest, I can’t think of anything more priceless.

Thank you NHS xxx

Off the road

It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything on this blog. After three years of hope, despair, needles and scans we finally managed to get pregnant and our little girl is due in a few weeks. I still find it hard to believe, even when she’s kicking me in the bladder and I no longer fit through doorways. I have to focus hard not to dwell on what could go wrong (I have WAY too much info on that) and I pity the poor midwife that has to deal with me when I finally go into labour. I like to think I will be zen and pragmatic but suspect I will be a terrified, paranoid mess. I’ll bring cookies (and maybe gin) and hope she forgives me.

You can’t work on the road while pregnant, and as this was IVF you are on ‘light duties’ from implantation. So nine months of not working as a frontline paramedic BEFORE maternity leave. Going back is going to be another very steep learning curve as I try to reassure myself I still remember how to cannulate / drive on blues / run cardiac arrests while remembering to breathe.

While on light duties I’ve been seconded to the learning team, helping to design and deliver training. I love it. I did a lot of training in my last job before becoming a paramedic and I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed it. There’s something special about seeing that ‘lightbulb moment’ when you explain something and it just clicks; or the relaxation of the shoulders when positive feedback helps remind someone they really are doing just fine.

My baby also appears to LOVE cardiac arrest training and kicks like mad whenever I lead it. I like to think she’s practicing her chest compressions. If so, she’s going to have mad skills if she can just crack keeping her hand placement steady and avoid using her feet, elbows and bum.

I do miss patients (most of them) and my colleagues on the road. I manage a bit of home working now which is great as snacks are plentiful but I miss the banter and the support of working in a team. Life on station is moving on without me: new faces, new in-jokes, new rumors. It already feels a world away and I hope that there will be enough of the familiar left to cushion the blow when I go back. As long as we still regularly run out of milk, someone manages to damage a truck driving into the faulty garage door once a week and the sofas are still bloody uncomfortable I’m sure it will still feel like home.

Resilience 

Of all the qualities a paramedic must have – compassion, problem solving, communication skills, drinking boiling hot beverages in 35 seconds flat – resilience is the one quality that we discuss the least and perhaps need the most. 

It is expected. You decided to become a paramedic. You knew what the job would entail and you believed you could cope with it. End of discussion. As students and new staff stroll through the doors on their first day we rarely expect them to lack compassion but we judge them furiously for their resilience – too young, too niaive, too soft. We dread being present when their resilience is tested and perhaps found wanting.  We know we cannot protect them from what they may see.

Those who have been in the service for many years sometimes wear their ‘forged in the fires of hell’ resilience as a suit of armor. Telling stories of jobs that make the new staff go pale with a smile on their face as they eat their lunch. Such armor is often brittle.

We are all reluctant to face a glaring and dangerous truth. There is no such thing as ‘resilient enough to be a paramedic’. There is only our ability to cope right this second versus the carnage we encounter; and our ability to cope is a fluid and unpredictable thing. It depends on how tired we are, what is going on at home, the exact nature of the carnage at our feet and the support we feel we have in picking it up. I’ve seen experienced staff hide PTSD for years before one day just leaving. Some end their lives. Some stay and medicate themselves against the worst of it. 

I’ve also seen young, brand new staff members witness horrors that fall far too close to home, square their shoulders through the tears and plough on.

Resilience is not something we have ‘enough of’ and it is not fixed. It can be nurtured and strengthened just as it can be eroded and undermined.

I believe we have a duty to each other when we think about resilience. A duty to see it not as a finite resource but as a campfire against the cold that we all should be tending. Because to let the flames die down is to invite wolves. 

So if I am to add logs to my campfire and those of my colleagues, what does that look like? I think it starts with being brave enough to admit when our firewood is running low and curious enough to recognize it in others.  This means really listening and making the time to act on what we hear.

It means challenging criticism, of others and that which people voice about themselves. Believing people should ‘man up’ about anything is unhelpful (and, let’s face it, sexist).  

Someone is a shit magnet? Make some time to talk to them. I am guilty of commenting that if any serious accident has happened then ‘X’ must have attended it (every station has one). I don’t think I really considered how the jobs that earned them the reputation may be affecting them. They seem fine, but did I really look? Was I really listening? 

We’ve all got to do things for the first time, and it’s often hard. It’s allowed to be.  We should acknowledge that. The 20th time can sometimes be harder. We should acknowledge that too.

I sometimes hear that ‘morale is poor on station’, as if people are a bit glum that the coffee is not to their taste or the TV signal went fuzzy. ‘The resilience of the team as a whole is low’ would be a more useful and worrying statement. Retention rates drop. Sickness rises. People dread coming to work. 

It can’t be ignored. 

It can be faced. Even if it is just one supportive conversation or cup of tea at a time.  So I resolve to be more vigilant, to tend to the campfires and enjoy their warmth… because winter is coming.  

#gameofthronesneverhadtodealwithfluseason 

Ciao


So this is what a hospital in Venice looks like. As a paramedic you drive a speedboat, have access to the best ice creams in the world and feel like you’re constantly in a Bond film. I am requesting a transfer. 

The Lost Boys

Here’s to all the lost boys.

The boys who watch with hard eyes from the corners of rooms and from the shadows across the street.  Weight on the balls of their feet. Ready to run.

The boys who stood on a box in the kitchen to make dinner tonight for themselves and their siblings as mum was drunk.

The boys who end up in handcuffs when the rage inside just can’t be contained. Legs strapped together, screaming.

The boys who try to cut, burn, drink and smoke the pain away.

The boys who starve themselves.

The boys who aren’t good enough. Never will be. GET OUT OF THIS HOUSE!! YOU’RE USELESS!!

The boys who are dads doing their best, yet to grow into their shoulders or potential.

The boys who shoot up in the park, unconscious while others rummage through their pockets and steal their last cigarette. 

The boys covered in bruises, spitting blood onto the pavement.

The boys who live on friends’ sofas.

The boys who are never told they are loved. 

The boys standing on the bridge over the train tracks asking themselves why not?

Here’s to all the lost boys.

You deserve to be found. I hope you are. I hope it’s not too late.