Rosie*, 30, has been a qualified paramedic in the UK for five years. She works four 12-hour shifts a week, which often include night shifts.
She says: ‘I’ve always been fascinated with the emergency services, and unfortunately when I was a teenager a family member was very sick and we had ambulances out quite often. Seeing them actually doing the job cemented for me that it was the job I wanted.’
Here’s what a day in Rosie’s* shoes looks like…
5.30am: ‘My alarm goes off. This gives me thirty minutes to get up, sort my lunch bag out, brush my teeth, do my make-up and get out of the door for 6am.’
6.30am: ‘I struggle to eat with an early start, so when I get on station I’ll make myself a cup of tea.
We have to sign out our controlled drugs which are morphine and Diazemuls (liquid diazepam). We carry them on ourselves and have to sign them in and out at the start and finish of each shift with a witness.
Then we collect our drugs bag, which holds the equipment we need to cannulate people, as well as other drugs for things like respiratory problems or allergic reactions. Once we have these, we’re ready to sign on and start our shift.’
7am: ‘First call of a day shift is normally an elderly person that has fallen, today is no different.
John* is 84 and lives at home on his own. He fell out of bed whilst getting up to use the toilet. This is the second time I’ve met John* in a number of days, and it turns out he has had numerous ambulances during the week due to his falling.
He hasn’t hurt himself but can’t get up, so we help him back to bed, make a cup of tea for him and we have a chat. He agrees that he isn’t coping very well at home, despite having carers come three times a day. We agree that the best course of action for John* today, is for us to take him to hospital. He isn’t safe to leave alone at home as his mobility isn’t very good and we’re worried he will fall again and this time possibly hurt himself.
By taking him to hospital it gives other health staff the chance to assess him fully – they might also uncover the reason why he is falling so frequently at the moment. Social services will then review John* to help him decide what’s the next best step for him.’
9.30am: ‘We clear down at the hospital to be sent straight to our next patient, a 50-year-old female who has chest pain – this is one of our most common reasons for a call, along with abdominal pain and breathing problems.
Sandra* is a cleaner and noticed she had chest pain which was getting worse whilst at work, her boss called 999 for her. We take a history from Sandra* and she tells us this chest pain has been coming and going for the past week, whilst both at rest and on exertion.
All of her observations we take (temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen levels) are normal, so we do a 12-lead ECG which gives us a snapshot picture of the electrical activity in her heart. This is also normal, but I explain to Sandra* that I can’t rule out the pain in her chest being caused by her heart, and she needs blood tests at the hospital for a diagnosis. And so she agrees for us to take her to hospital.
We have a chat in the back of the ambulance and she shows me photos of her dog, so I show her my dog too. Building a rapport with patients is so important to put them at ease and help relax.’
11.30am: ‘Our next patient is a three-year-old who was running around and ran into the corner of a table. The person who called 999 was very distressed stating there was blood everywhere.
The dispatcher rings us and says the critical care paramedic is available if we need them: this is an advanced paramedic who deals with the most serious patients.
Fortunately we get to the address and the child is screaming – we all love a screaming child, as this means they can breathe!
He is easily comforted by mum, and we give him some Calpol so I can look at the wound on his head. It’s only small and has already stopped bleeding. As everything else is okay with the child we ring the doctors’ surgery and make an appointment for them to see the practice nurse later today, who can put the appropriate dressing on his wound. He’s left watching Hey Duggee and mum is more relaxed.’
1pm: ‘It’s lunchtime. I usually have a salad in the summer and soup in the winter. And I always have Mini Cheddars! We get one thirty-minute break per shift which is “do not disturb”, meaning control aren’t allowed to contact us or send us to a patient.’
1.30pm: ‘We get allocated a Category 1 – the most serious of 999 calls. This one states “cardiac arrest” meaning someone isn’t breathing and their heart has stopped beating.
CPR instructions are being given over the phone by the emergency call taker. They tell us it’s a 75-year-old male and they’re telling the carer who found him to start doing CPR, but she is reluctant. Evidence shows the sooner you start chest compressions, the better chance the patient has. When we arrive we have to block the road with our ambulance as there’s nowhere we can park outside the property. We take all the equipment off the ambulance and run up the three flights of stairs to his flat.
We do our checks and find that the patient isn’t breathing, and there is no electrical activity in the patients heart. The carer tells me nobody has seen or spoken to him in the last two hours. The man is cold to touch which leads me to believe he died a short time ago, and there is nothing we can do for him.
We contact the police as this is an unexpected and unexplained death, and they act on behalf of the coroner. The carer leaves, but we make sure that she is okay before she goes. We finish the paperwork and wait for the police to arrive before we leave. Dispatch send us back to our base for a cup of tea and check we are okay. It’s a sad part of the job, but it’s something we do frequently.’
4pm: ‘We go to our last patient of the shift, a 17-year-old female with mental health issues. She rang her mental health nurse and told them she was feeling suicidal. They were unable to get to her, so called 999.
‘The girl isn’t happy to see us, and doesn’t want to let us in to the property. Eventually after a chat at the front door, she agrees to let us in. She tells us she has previously taken an overdose and has self harmed by cutting before. She tells me she hasn’t taken any tablets today but has the urge to do so. She says she feels really low and lonely, so she wants to fall asleep and not wake up.
We stay with her for a while, and she agrees to come to hospital to talk to the mental health team. Mental health services have had huge cut backs, which has a knock on effect. We aren’t trained very much in mental health, so you have to be able to gauge the situation you’re in with the patient, and decide what the best route is to get them help.
I felt that this girl was an immediate risk and needed someone better than myself to help her. Unfortunately the only way to achieve that is to go to A&E.’
7pm: ‘If I finish my shift on time (which is rare) then I normally walk in my front door at about 7pm.
I take my boots off outside my front door, then it’s straight in to a hot shower before anything else. Time for a quick dinner – usually a stir fry or jacket potato with beans & cheese. If my boyfriend is home then we’ll watch a series (currently watching Schitts Creek!) or I’ll read my book.’
9.30pm: ‘If I have work the next day, I aim to be in bed by 9:30pm. I’m not a morning person at all, so I need a lot of sleep!’
*Names have been changed to protect identities.