Last night, I had the privilege of a night out on Steve‘s FRU. A FRU is a First Response Unit, otherwise known as an ‘ambulance car’. They go to all the highest priority calls, the idea being that they will get there first and save vital seconds.

Call #1 – Phone Box Drunk
A nightshift in Nee Naw Control isn’t complete without an extremely drunk homeless person ringing up from a phonebox, slurring his words, not knowing where he is, not knowing what is wrong with him (usually they want a warm A+E bed for the night) answering “yes” to every question (hence this call being a category A) and then puking all over the ambulance, so I was delighted at the anticipation of seeing it from the other side (so long as I didn’t get puked on. I have a pathological hatred of vomit, which admittedly is a bit of a problem for someone who wants to be ambulance crew when he grows up). First of all, though, there was a two mile dash through the streets of South London at the speed of light with the nee naw siren blaring (it actually went “nee naw” and not “woo woo”, which made my day) and the blue lights richocheting off the houses. I don’t mind admitting my heart was in my mouth as we took hairpin bends at 60 mph on a 30 mph road. This is not any criticism of Steve’s driving, which was fine, but the knowledge that if I had been driving, I would have lost control within seconds and wrapped the poor FRU round a lamppost. I am possibly the world’s worst driver, btw, another potential stumbling block in my chosen career.

Anyway, we pulled up outside the location given, and found a few shoppers carrying their bags home, a few teenagers drinking alcopops, and absolutely no phone box drunks at all. Steve rang Control to inform them of the absent inebriate, and we searched the area for the offending phone box. Spotting that a box was ringing, Steve rang over and answered it. It was Control, trying to locate the drunk. After that, we conceded defeat and shuffled back to the car.

Call #2 – Bleeding Foot
No sooner had we finished the paperwork and press “available”, the MDT (mobile data terminal/in-ambulance computer that tells you what to do and where to go) started ringing and we were off to… a twenty-seven year old woman with a cut foot. At this point you may begin to realise that not all category A calls are the life threatening emergencies they are supposed to be. This one was a category A because of “abnormal breathing”. The call was just round the corner from the empty phone box, so it didn’t take long to get there. I think the relatives were surprised that a cut foot can warrant an ambulance within two minutes.

However, as we trooped up the stairs (I got to hold the oxygen bag), I noticed there was blood everywhere and was beginning to think that this was more exciting than it sounded. Perhaps the woman’s foot had been cut off! With an axe! There’s nothing like a good traumatic amputation, is there?

So we reached the top of the stairs, and there on the sofa, was an extremely plump woman in a pink tracksuit making faces like a dying swan. Three teenage boys were gathered round dabbing ineffectively at her blood stained toes with a roll of Kleenex. On her toes were three small cuts, none more than an inch long. She wasn’t breathing normally; she was in floods of tears.

So that was my first lesson of the day: cuts to the feet result in a lot of blood loss because feet contain a lot of capillaries.

I helped wipe the blood off her feet, and then the ambulance crew arrived and carted the snivelling woman off to hospital for a tetanus. Lots of worried faces appeared in the doorway as they took her away. “Is she going to be alright?” asked one man.

“I think she’ll live!” said the ambulance crew.

Call #3 – Pub Assault
We were greeted at the local chain pub by an Australian barman:

“We found him in the toilet! He’s flat out unconscious and has a lump on his head! We think he’s been beaten up!”

So we ran to the back of the pub and there he was, a man in his fifties, lying prostrate on the floor. Something about his position made me think that maybe he wasn’t “flat out unconscious” after all — it was the way his legs were crossed, as if he were reclining, enjoying the sun. This notion was confirmed when Steve shone a light into his eyes — suddenly, there was life, and our victim decided to talk to us. Well, slur at us. I’m not quite sure what he was trying to say. Steve started to do his observations (pulse, oxygen saturation, blood sugar, blood pressure and the like), which were all resoundingly normal, and at this point the police arrived. The patient suddenly became agigated and started thrashing his arms and legs around, knocking over chairs and nearly breaking his oxygen mask. We all got out the way, except the Australian barman, who decided to have a heart to heart with the patient to calm him down. A brave but foolish man!

One of the policeman asked Steve if he thought the injuries were lifethreatening. Steve replied “no, he seems to be suffering from a severe case of being very drunk.” Still, you can’t be too careful with head injuries, so the patient was dispatched in the direction of the hospital. We saw the ambulance crew again later in the night, and they reported that he had made a right nuisance of himself in A+E. Somehow, I wasn’t surprised.

Call #4 – Kebab Shop Assault
(Can you see a pattern here?) We were called to a kebab shop just round the corner where a thirty-something Russian girl was nursing a bloody nose. Apparently someone had been trying to hit her boyfriend and she had got in the way. The boyfriend was shouting at the police and his girlfriend alternatively, random people kept coming out of the kebab shop and shouting at the boyfriend, and the poor woman just stood there holding her nose saying “I want to go home”. She wouldn’t let us look at it or make a statement to the police, so there was not much more we could do. I felt dead sorry for her with everyone shouting their opinions and telling her what to do without letting her get a word in edgeways, and I kind of understood why someone had wanted to punch the boyfriend in the first place

And that was the first half of the shift… another entry about the rest of the calls will follow shortly. It was such a busy night that I’d give myself RSI writing about them all in one entry. Observer’s Curse, the phenomenon which causes any ambulance with an observer on board only to get dull calls, or no calls at all all night, was certainly not in operation. Unless Observer’s Curse was responsible for the pneumonia inducing weather conditions…

Published Jan 30, 2006 - 15 Comments and counting

15 Comments on “The Observer (Part 1)”
  1. Gekko Says:

    Awww, how exciting Mark!
    Did you get to wear the snazzy green outfit an’ all?

  2. Anonymous Says:


  3. Mark Myers Says:

    I wear the green outfit every day. The Powers That Be decided that control should wear the same uniform as the crews to increase solidarity within the service!

  4. M2KB Says:

    You forget Mark, Observers Curse works both ways. Either extremely dull-nothing-happened-all-day kind of curse. Or OMFG-we-never-stopped kind of curse. ;-)

    Glad you enjoyed it, kind of reminds me of my “Services Familiarisation Week” when I joined the rozzers. Imense fun.

  5. Ailbhe Says:

    Roll of Kleenex?

  6. Spike Says:

    I kind of understood why someone had wanted to punch the boyfriend in the first place


  7. Merys Jones Says:

    Yeah observers curse wasn’t really in operation for me this weekend. Not a hellishly busy weekend – but a fair share of rough jobs.

  8. Angie Says:

    The best ‘drunk’ I ever saw was whilst spending a few hours in a casualty department with a cousin. The TV was on in the waiting area, there was a movie on, someone was in a fire, screaming and yelling for help. “Help! Help! get me to a hospital!” The drunk, whom if the undertaker had come along and removed him I wouldn’t have been at all surprised, (because he certainly looked dead – totally sprawled out across a few chairs) sat bolt upright, stared straight at the TV and slurred, “don’t worry love, you’re in a f***ing hospital” and promptly lay back down and assumed his death pose.

    You do amazing jobs :)

  9. Shola Ogunlokun Says:

    Looks like you had a good night! I hope you fulfil your dream of being an EMT.

    How odd seeting in control wearing a green boiler suit!

  10. Anonymous Says:

    60mph in a 30 to a drunk. irresponsible no wonder we keep loseing FRUs

  11. dr dork Says:

    I see a pattern.

    Alcohol. It’s a nasty drug in its own right, particularly in that not just the user suffers, they tend to spread the misery.

    You will get desensitised to vomit, soon enough. And to blood, faeces, and perhaps even to suffering, to a degree.

    Whether that is a good or bad thing…..

  12. JP Says:

    Just fascinating, Mark. Sounds like you had a ball. Great writing.

  13. Mark Myers Says:

    Ailbhe – roll of Andrex, packet of Kleenex. Tissues! You know what I mean ;-)

    Anonymous – it doesn’t matter whether you are going to a drunk or a suspended baby, cat As are cat As. Drunks can have life threatening illnesses too.

  14. The Driving Instructor Says:

    Looks like you enjoyed the ride in the FRU.

    I look forward to part two

    The Driving Instructor

  15. Naomi Says:

    all i wanted to see was an RTA and i went out observing loads and all we got was chest pains the day after i left they got a stabbing and then an RTA that required air ambulance grrrrr im so annoyed – then to top it off im not allowed to go out observing im so peed off – i would do anything to do there job.

    Nee Naw
    Nee Naw was a blog about life in the London Ambulance Service control room. It was written by Suzi Brent from 2005 to 2010. The blog is no longer being updated, but the archives will remain here.
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