“they reckon about a hundred people in London account for something like fifty percent of all the ambulance callouts. It’s like they want a gold membership card, or a special closeness with their god, the fear of death.”
Takeaway, by Tommy Hazard, offers an uncompromising look at the realities facing an NHS ambulance driver in contemporary London. The honesty is shocking in places so used have we become to expressing thoughts in language deemed acceptable by those who have made it their business to police such things. The tales told are refreshingly devoid of standard public censorship. Although at times derogatory it is to expectations and behaviours rather than people.
Written in the voice of an experienced ambulance driver, part of a team that has established an inner detector honing in on who may actually benefit from hospital treatment, the anecdotes recounted bring to light how often ambulance callouts are unnecessary. Prospective patients are drunk, on drugs, suffering indigestion or simply seeking attention. Families do not wish to deal with difficult or messy relatives. They want the problem of responsibility to be taken away. When a true emergency happens – a heart attack, attempted suicide or road traffic accident – sometimes the kinder action is to accept the inevitable. Those looking on increasingly expect a miracle, as seen on TV.
“we’re judged on how many of those dead people we can bring back to life. Most of those dead people are dead for a reason. Forty years of smoking, drinking a bottle of whiskey a day. […] Only five percent of people come back when we do CPR and the rest of it. Out of that, how many of them actually have a quality of life? A tiny amount. […] The natural way of dying is the heart stops beating, oxygen stops going to the brain, the brain cuts out. As you’re going through that dying process, your head is most likely producing some psychedlic, drug, and you imagine you see a tunnel of light or the gates of heaven. Imagine you’re going through that relatively blissful drug experience, and some [f- c-] starts trying to reverse it […] your relatively pleasant death is turned into this brutal forty-minute procedure […] I feel sorry for the people for whom it’s their last experience on this planet.”
The ambulance teams have regulars – patients with complex issues that cannot be sorted by a visit to A&E. The drivers must also circumvent a bureaucracy that values public perception, targets and adherence to listed procedures over what may be of longer term benefit to the patient. There are run-ins with the police, with violent criminals, and with privileged office workers on a night out who require protection from the effects of their own idiocy.
When an ambulance is called – say to pick up an elderly person who has fallen over because carers are not allowed to lift people, or because a woman is suffering vaginal bleeding (monthly?) – that vehicle becomes, for a time, unavailable. This is rarely a concern as callouts missed are unlikely to be time critical. Knowing this the drivers are not always rushing to get back to work.
Although trying to act in a calm and professional manner drivers are human and can become enraged by the way they and the services they offer are treated, especially when they decline to comply with self-entitled expectations and problem shifting.
Written as a series of short and fascinating examples of cases, this book provides mordant entertainment through attitudes and reactions to incidents. It is also food for thought about how each reader would wish to be treated should they one day require an ambulance team’s skills and services.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Morbid Books.