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24 hours with… an ambulance driver

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Photo credit: Jessica Lockett | Getty Images

Photo credit: Jessica Lockett | Getty Images

From Cosmopolitan

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to run rife in the UK, we’re back in lockdown again. We’ve all been instructed to follow the same rules (more or less) – but how that actually looks from person-to-person is surprisingly unique. With so many different living, working, and personal situations at play, each week Cosmopolitan invites a different reader to share a glimpse into their life over a 24-hour period….

Shelley is a 35-year-old firefighter with London Fire Brigade. Despite being a firefighter for almost 11 years, she has spent most of the last year seconded over to the London Ambulance Service (LAS) to help with the COVID-19 pandemic, as she is ‘blue light’ trained. Lockdown has been quite hard as a single person, but she’s grateful to have supportive family, great friends, and her dog, Koli who’s a soppy, dopey, large Poodle-cross dog. Shelley is relieved she has been able to carry on working throughout the pandemic and that she’s had the chance to experience working with the London Ambulance Service, who she’s in awe of.

Photo credit: Jessica Lockett | Getty Images Photo credit: Jessica Lockett | Getty Images

Photo credit: Jessica Lockett | Getty Images

4.20am: My alarm goes off. I can’t believe it’s that time already. I press snooze and snuggle back under the duvet. I try to roll over but realise the dog is using my feet as a pillow. I quickly check my route to work; it says part of the M1 is shut. Better get a move on. I get up and dressed in 15 minutes, give the dog a big cuddle and head downstairs by torch light. Wouldn’t want to disturb his sleep any more than I already have. He’s so used to my routine he doesn’t even get out of bed anymore.

I put my stove coffee pot on and put all my pre-prepared lunch into my cool bag. Coffee made and I’m off. It feels so cold out. I set my phone to play a random selection of music and head off. Considering the time, I’m pretty upbeat and start singing along.

5.10am: Not even halfway down the M1 I start to think I’ve left the hob on. I’m 99% sure I haven’t but it starts to really mess with my head. Headlines of ‘Firefighter sets fire to own home’ go through my mind. I have a brainwave and call my sister’s fiancée who finishes his night shift about now. Perfect timing – he goes round to check and sure enough, it’s turned off. Panic over and I get back to singing along to my tunes.

6.15am: I’m at work. I grab all my kit from my locker. There’s a lot of it; massive hi-vis jacket, fire helmet, full face mask with respirators and more. I head off to find our ambulance for today – it’s a new fancy one. I do all my checks on the truck; I’m renowned for finding nails in the tyres, but none today. I jump inside to escape the cold, feeling starving and a bit ratty as James, my crew mate, arrives. He’s a full time Emergency Ambulance Crew, and is so easy to get on with that I forget my hangriness. We finish checking all the equipment and our PPE and we’re good to go.

Photo credit: Hearst OwnedPhoto credit: Hearst Owned

Photo credit: Hearst Owned

6.50am: We jump in the front of the truck and I produce a coffee points card and hand it to James. “Happy Valentine’s Day,” I joke. He laughs. He let me borrow the points card last week and I lost it. So far, he’s lent me two things and I’ve lost both. I’m so scatty sometimes. At least I found the card and he can claim his free coffee.

Now it’s a race to get to our local garage for our first coffee of the shift before we book on, which means we are available to go to 999 calls (jobs). We make it, and park on the forecourt as James tucks into his sausage bap and I have my homemade protein pancakes. Most of yesterday afternoon was spent food prepping as I’m trying to eat healthier. Before we even get to enjoy our coffee or finish our food, we’re off to our first job.

8.10am: Cold coffee! I still drink it. Our first job was a straightforward one involving a COVID positive patient. The lady is advised to go to the walk-in centre. She didn’t need us, other than for a bit of reassurance. Putting our equipment back on the truck, I clean everything, including myself. It has an odd effect on me, being around a COVID positive person, and I’m almost obsessive with my cleaning. There’s no way I want to take any risk of catching or spreading this illness. Depending on the job, we have varying levels of PPE and it’s reassuring to have this to hand. When we are most at risk, we are covered from head-to-toe in a CSI-style suit and a full face mask with respirators. Some of the LAS have struggled with the mask, as it’s quite claustrophobic if you’re not used to it, but it’s basically the same as a firefighters Breathing Apparatus mask so I’m quite at home in it. After James does his paperwork, we’re ready to go again.

Photo credit: Hearst OwnedPhoto credit: Hearst Owned

Photo credit: Hearst Owned

9am: We drive to a local hospital to use the toilets. I’m getting desperate. The downside of so much coffee first thing! I haven’t got to the silly dance phase of desperation yet, but it’s close.

We drive past an open-air flower store. There are so many men out in the cold all desperately selecting last-minute Valentine’s flowers for their partners. I point it out to James and we have a giggle.

9.05am: One of the Metropolitan Police Officers who has also been seconded to the LAS is on the A&E ramp with his crew mate. It’s one of his final shifts and his girlfriend has made cakes for everyone. We get given our share. It’s so sweet of them. The collaboration between the services has been brilliant. I’ll be sad to leave at the end of this month, but I’ve made some great friends and worked with some amazing people. I keep eyeing up the cake. I’m supposed to be avoiding sugar and cleaning up my diet after eating mainly sugar and processed junk throughout lockdown. Wonder how long my will power will last!

I get a moment to drop my friend a message to see how she’s doing. She’s split with her boyfriend and is devastated. I wish I could go and see her, but she lives miles away and COVID rules say no.

Photo credit: Hearst OwnedPhoto credit: Hearst Owned

Photo credit: Hearst Owned

9.20am: Don’t eat the cake, don’t eat the cake! We’ve had a bit of downtime which is very rare. It’s a sign that the lockdown is working.

10.15am: Job number two and again, we don’t need to take the patient to hospital, although they are advised to go to the walk-in centre. This isn’t a COVID case and the young girl is lovely; her family are really worried after she possibly fainted. Her observations* are all good and her family are reassured. James does his paperwork in the ambulance and we’re ready to go again.

*Observations are the physical checks carried out on a person and include, but are not limited to: oxygen saturation, blood pressure, blood glucose levels, temperature, pulse-rate and ECG.

11.05am: Job number three. This time we take our patient to hospital. He’s an older gentleman and not that ill, but he needs to be seen today. He’s very grateful that we make him comfortable and James makes him a makeshift pillow from one of our blankets. As cliché as it sounds, it’s so heart-warming when you know you’ve made someone smile, no matter how small the gesture.

Photo credit: Hearst OwnedPhoto credit: Hearst Owned

Photo credit: Hearst Owned

12.10pm: We manage to grab something to eat, and yet another coffee (I’m aware how bad for me that is, but hey). Despite all my food prep yesterday, my attempt at following a healthy veggie Thai Red curry recipe last night was disastrous. By the time I realised it was past saving, it was 8pm and I really couldn’t be bothered with home-making something new. So here I am, buying lunch: an egg and bean wrap. It’s a lot nicer than it sounds. The last few bites go down in one go as we get another job.

1.30pm: Job number four. This lady doesn’t need to go to hospital, she just needs a hand off the floor. I’ve learnt that the LAS go to these jobs quite a lot. It seems like a drain of their resources, but they are often some of the loveliest people you go to so we’re always happy to help. We have a good chat and even a giggle with her. James checks she’s physically ok whilst I clean her bathroom. She’s so grateful that I’ve cleaned everything up for her. She wants to tip us, but we obviously politely decline and leave her reading her daily newspaper.

2.20pm: Now I really want the cake from earlier! We have to head off to the hospital again to use the toilets. I’m doing the wee dance by the time we get there.

We drive past the flower store again – still men selecting flowers! It’s sweet seeing people of all ages clutching massive bouquets of roses and other colourful flowers. I’m not a flower fan so I haven’t a clue what they are. It makes me think I would really like to meet that special man; I do get lonely sometimes, especially during lockdown, but I am the happiest I’ve been in years and am really enjoying just being me. A friend once told me that a partner should be the cherry on your cupcake (life). The cake still tastes bloody good without that cherry, but it just adds that special something. That’s always stuck with me and rings true right now.

Photo credit: Hearst OwnedPhoto credit: Hearst Owned

Photo credit: Hearst Owned

3pm: Job number five. The drive to this one was stressful. It can be so draining driving on blue lights all day; some road users get it spot on and make our journey so much easier, others try their utmost to help, some genuinely don’t see you and others are plain rude, gesturing at you when you use the tones (siren) to try to clear a path through traffic. Luckily, being a Sunday and lockdown, it doesn’t happen too often, but by the end of this drive I’m glad to stop and breathe a sigh of relief. I love driving and the ambulances are more responsive than fire engines so they’re nice to drive. Our patient stays at home against James’ advice, but she insists, and her family is happy with the decision.

4pm:
Starting to feel tired now. Working with the LAS has shown me that I’m quite a sensitive, emotional person and some things really get to me. That’s been the hardest adjustment from firefighting to assisting on the ambulances, especially during the pandemic. Day-in, day-out, dealing with seriously ill people, watching what could easily be final goodbyes, taking people alone to hospital to avoid spreading COVID-19, seeing people scared, others alone sometimes with nobody to turn to. It’s worse watching someone’s life slip away in front of you and being enveloped in the pain the family is experiencing. It’s hard.

I grab a handful of goji berries and raisins for an energy boost before getting the call for our next job.

4.45pm: Job seven. Another patient who doesn’t need to go to hospital. All her observations are good, she’s given advice, and we go outside so that James can finish his paperwork. I’m hungry again so I take the chance to grab some carrot and hummus and cottage cheese on oat cakes. All done and ready to go again. Not long until we’re done for the day. So tired now.

Photo credit: Hearst OwnedPhoto credit: Hearst Owned

Photo credit: Hearst Owned

5.30pm: Straight into job eight. A quick job and straight into hospital. Another patient with COVID-19, so I’m back into my obsessive cleaning mode. I bump into one of my old crew mates from last year, Liam. He’s become a friend, but I’ve not seen him ages so it’s nice to have a catch up.

I manage to grab a few minutes down time and decide to finally tuck into the cake. And I’m glad I did, it’s delicious.

6.15pm: James has finished and we are now in our 15-minute Category 1 period, which means we can only be called onto a job if it’s a serious, life-threatening emergency and we are the closest to attend. We head back to station and luckily, we don’t get called to anything.

6.35pm: We’re back at the station. We tidy the ambulance, empty the bins, and pack up our kit.

7pm: Tiredness has well and truly got the better of me. Too wiped out to cook, I order a wrap from Nando’s with corn and peas in advance of getting home. I jump in the car and dial my mum as I head off. I obviously want to check-in on my folks, but mainly I’m dying to see how my dog has been. He’s had a good day with his Grandpawrents. I don’t see him until after tomorrow’s shift as it’s easier all round and less confusing for him.

9pm: Feels like ages since I was last in bed. I know I’ll be asleep in minutes. My eyes sting and my brain has even given up thinking now. I close my eyes before I’m back to doing it all again tomorrow.

Photo credit: Hearst OwnedPhoto credit: Hearst Owned

Photo credit: Hearst Owned

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