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A day in the life: Paramedics

Wellington Free Ambulance responded to 6836 calls in Wairarapa last year. During a recent ride-along on the day shift, BELLA CLEARY got an insight into what it takes to be a paramedic.

In a line of work where no day is predictable, Wairarapa Wellington Free Ambulance [WFA] shift manager Andrew Gladding is suspicious about the unusually calm start to his morning at the Masterton ambulance station.

Restocking the various ampules, vials, tablets, and medical instruments that make up his emergency bags, Gladding says a spell of uninterrupted time usually means something is brewing.

“As soon as you want to be able to do something, grab a bite, or go to the bathroom, fate has other plans,” he says.

Almost like clockwork, a call bursts through on the radio and Gladding leaps into action.

He hoists up not one, not two, but three weighty medical bags and heads to his emergency response vehicle.

As a shift manager, he says he needs to be accountable for all his gear, unlike ambulance paramedic crew who often operate in pairs.

“I’m quite used to carrying everything myself.”

Lights flashing and sirens blaring, Gladding hightails it around Masterton’s busy roads to a new subdivision.

It’s so new, the address isn’t even updated on Google Maps.

“This happens sometimes, which makes it difficult to know you have the right house,” Gladding says, using his own knowledge of Masterton’s streets to navigate.

On arrival, another ambulance has also responded to the call, which is for a resident experiencing stomach pains.

Concerned household members and neighbours are also gathering on the street, and a small child is staring wide-eyed at the lights flashing in front of him.

Gladding says while this attention is understandable, it’s important for paramedics to be able to work uninterrupted.

“Space is important for the paramedic crew to be able to do their jobs calmly and quietly,” Gladding says, while watching from a distance as the patient is gently transferred to the ambulance by the other attending paramedics.

After keeping onlookers at bay, he invites the excited young ambulance enthusiast for a quick ride in the fancy yellow car – and makes his day.

Gladding says personal relations are a huge part of emergency work.

“Calls are also about building these relationships and reassuring people.

“A lot of the things we go to are negative experiences, so we do anything we can to make it less distressing.”

It’s midday, but there’s no time for lunch yet as the static-lined voice from the radio barks out another address.

An 81-year-old male is having trouble breathing at Abbeyfield House for Elderly People.

Lead housekeeper Gay Guise suggested resident Gordon Bishop press his emergency buzzer to alert emergency services when he started to feel uncomfortable.

She praises the quick response of the two paramedics who meet Gladding at the site.

“The work they do is invaluable. They’re fabulous, can’t fault them at all!”

After running various tests and establishing Bishop has a fever and faster than usual heart rate, the paramedics suggest a visit to the hospital.

He is wheeled to the ambulance outside in one of WFA’s electric stretchers, all the while responding to the light-hearted conversation and a few jokes thrown his way by the paramedics.

Guise waves from the entrance.

“That’s one way to get out of doing the dishes, Gordon,” she calls out.

“Be nice to the nurses!”

Once inside the ambulance, the paramedics immediately start working on how to get a head start on treating Bishop before arriving at the hospital.

Trained in the art of multi-tasking, the two paramedics perform a dance around each other in the close quarters of the ambulance, with one consulting a series of charts and data, and the other administering medications.

Bishop is delivered safely to the hospital soon after, and Gladding finally has a second to pick up some lunch and head back to the station.

Over a sandwich, he says not every day is the explosion of lights and chaos you often see in media.

“A car crash is public and visible, that’s why it’s often the focus of campaigns,” he explains.

“But the majority of our work is done quickly and discreetly, behind the closed doors of people’s homes.”

Gladding says that while these types of calls don’t often elicit drama or make headlines, they resemble the countless situations responded to by paramedics each day in the region.

“In Wairarapa especially, there’s a huge amount of holistic engagement with the people,” Gladding says.

“You’re part of the community, and here for the community.”

Connection is a huge aspect of the job and while that’s what makes it meaningful, Gladding says it can also be difficult to not find out the resolution of an incident, for privacy reasons.

“At the end of the day, everyone is a person, with a story. For a brief, but significant time, we become part of that story.”

Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age, originally hailing from Wellington. She is interested in social issues and writes about the local arts and culture scene.

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