Nothing To See Here
When I started this blog, I used to post a lot of factual stories about events that occurred during my long time working on emergency ambulances in London. But over the years, other categories took precedence, and I began to wonder if there was much more to tell. After all, you can only relate so many tales; some tragic, others amusing, before it all starts to sound like more of the same. But I was thinking back to those days this morning, and this memory popped into my head.
A warm summer evening in west London, probably around 1995, maybe 1996, I don’t remember the exact date. I was on the late shift, starting at 3 pm, and finishing at 11. My regular partner was on holiday, and I arrived for work wondering who I would be crewed with that day. An awkward-looking young man appeared, tall and gangly, with an edgy and nervous demeanour. He asked if I was Pete, and told me he was working that shift with me. I hadn’t seen him before, and it transpired that he was a new guy, recently out of training school, and assigned to the divisional relief rota. He had what sounded like an Australian accent, but when I asked, he told me he was from New Zealand.
As we checked over the vehicle, he was keen to let me know that he was a very experienced first-aider in his home country. He had helped out in the voluntary services there for five years, before coming to live in England. He was quite scornful of our training and equipment, gabbling on about how much better things were in New Zealand, and how the volunteers there were more professional than the staff he had met in London. I could have taken him to task of course, but I had heard all that stuff before, and it was like water off a duck’s back to me. He asked to drive, so he could get to know the area. That meant I would have to spend all my time shouting directions to him, whilst looking after the patients in the back. But I said OK, telling myself that it was only one shift, and it would soon be over.
On the first couple of jobs that afternoon, he drove the ambulance like a maniac, at breakneck speed, stamping on the brakes, and shouting obscenities at drivers who were slow to move out of our way. I sat relaxed in the passenger seat. I had already decided that I was not going to like this bloke, and I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of arguing with him about his driving. As the evening rush hour began, he hadn’t calmed down, and seemed to be trying to prove a point. I gazed out of the window, seemingly oblivious. Just before 6 pm, we received a call to attend a road traffic accident, not far from the base we operated out of. The radio operator added the words “Believed serious, possibly fatal” after giving us the location. That got him really fired up, and we arrived in record time.
The scene was one of carnage indeed. A woman and female child had been struck by a car as they ran across the road. The child wasn’t moving, and her mother was obviously badly injured too. To make matters worse the car had swerved after the accident and hit a traffic island. The driver wasn’t wearing a seat belt, and had impacted the window, and steering wheel. I jumped out, shouting to the New Zealander to call for another two ambulances, and to request the police and fire service too, all usual in such accidents. At the busy junction, and the height of the rush hour on a hot summer evening, there was naturally a large crowd of onlookers. Traffic was stopped, drivers out of their cars, and people hanging out of nearby windows to see what was going on.
The child, a girl of around ten, was fatally injured, with no vital signs. As well as a massive head injury, her neck appeared to be broken. Her mother had one badly fractured leg, with bones protruding, and she was also bleeding profusely from a head injury sustained when dragged along by the car. Fortunately, she was barely conscious, so unaware of what had happened to her daughter. A witness was telling me that the car hit the girl at some speed, and then ran over her mother, dragging her under the car until smashing into the concrete base of the traffic island below the sign. I put a blanket over the dead child, and proceeded to treat the head and leg injuries on her mother. I shouted to the new guy to check the driver of the car, who appeared to be a teenage boy. An overview of the scene would have looked dramatic indeed. A dead child, lying in a pool of blood, covered by a blanket. A badly injured woman, with a trail of blood, tyre marks, and road dirt leading to where she was lying, as well as a car crashed into a traffic sign, windscreen smashed, and the driver’s face covered in blood.
As I struggled with the woman’s injuries, I listened out for the sirens that would announce the arrival of some help. But there was a delay getting another ambulance, due to a shortage of crews, and the fire engine was having to come from some distance too, which I obviously didn’t know. A young police woman arrived, and I sent her to check the driver of the car, as I couldn’t see my colleague anywhere nearby.
Then, above the noise of the crowd, the passing trains, and the sounds of traffic I heard someone shouting. “NOTHING TO SEE HERE, MOVE AWAY NOW, NOTHING TO SEE HERE”. Recognising the accent, I twisted round, spotting the other ambulance man some fifty yards away, arms outstretched, and gesturing to the crowd gathered on the road. I heard him shout again, “NOTHING TO SEE HERE”, before yelling at him to get his arse back to the scene, and get on with looking after the driver.
Fortunately, two more ambulances arrived, along with the fire service. One crew dealt with taking the child away, and another stood by as the firemen cut the roof off the car, ready to extricate the driver. We could now leave, taking the mother to the nearby casualty department. As we were cleaning up later, I explained to my temporary partner that he should pay less attention to the crowds in future, and concentrate on looking after the patients who have a chance of surviving.
As we got back into the vehicle, I added, “And by the way, you were wrong. There was plenty to see”.