it’s been 3 or 4 months since I last put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). Well, I’ve had a sudden urge, so here are my latest ramblings. Feel free to read on…..
Those of you that read my blog regularly will know that 9 months ago, I ‘retired’ from the NHS, and my well-paid – but stressful – management job, and found something I thought I would enjoy; part-time patient transport ambulance driver/care assistant. I’m not quite old enough to take my pension as yet, and the new job pays little over minimum wage, but I thought it would be worth it for the job satisfaction that comes from patient contact – and not forgetting the fun of driving a great big vehicle around!
For the last 9 months, I’ve been working for Ezec – the company that supplies the NHS in the south-west with non-emergency patient transport, such as discharge home from hospital and journeys to/ from outpatient appointments.
So, how does the job work?
Well, I’m on the bank. This means I fill in where there are spaces in the rota due to sickness, holidays and other gaps. I tend to work three 10-hour shifts a week. The early shift starts at 07.00, with the latest beginning at 11.00. This leaves me 4 days off, one of which I use for some voluntary work with Marie Curie, and one for doing some writing work as and when I feel like it.
So not really retirement then. Or even part-time …..
My ambulance station is in Nailsea, which is a 20 minute drive from home. I work with a great team of people, ranging in background from retired policemen to lorry drivers or care assistants. We tend to work in twos – one to drive and the other to be in the back with the patients; we swap roles halfway through the day.
There are also solo vehicles, which transport people who can walk, or who need only 1 person to help them.
The vehicles and patients are coordinated by colleagues in a Control Centre in Bristol. We cover the area in and around the south of Bristol, including the Bristol Royal Infirmary (BRI), Southmead Hospital, South Bristol Community and Weston General Hospitals as well as the smaller units in between, such as local dialysis units and Clevedon Hospital.
Is it how you thought it would be?
It’s better. It’s a world away from the management roles I’ve done over the last 20 years. Before that, I loved life as a trained nurse, but it was stressful when there was not enough time to care properly for people.
In this job, I get to talk to and care for people for the duration of a journey, and then see them safely to their destination. Sometimes they are regulars, and sometimes not. But they are usually very happy to see us, and generally appreciate the service we provide.
Hannah and I, getting patients home as the Beast from the East headed our way!
What sort of people do you see?
Patients range in age. I’ve transported a 3 year-old and a 99 year-old on the same day.
We have a regular patient who has his guide dog with him. It takes all my resolve not to hug him and pet him throughout the journey – the dog, not the patient!
People are sometimes able to walk. They can be in wheelchairs, able to transfer from one chair to another or require stretcher transport. Whatever their requirement, we aim to meet it efficiently and safely. This might mean calling in another crew to help carry a larger patient up a flight of stairs, for example.
I love hearing people’s stories. People who are over 90 often tell stories of the war. A land girl who mended tractors was a memorable one. Even patients who are suffering with dementia can become lucid and enjoy talking as they recall their younger days.
A particular lady sticks in my mind. One day, first thing in the morning, we picked her up from the Medical Assessment Unit at the BRI to take her home. As we arrived, we could hear her talking to the nurse. ‘You need more training, dear!’ We rounded the corner to meet a 97 year-old very smart lady putting on her red lipstick. She had beautiful, eyebrows, which she later told me were tattooed; ‘they last so much longer, my dear’ she said. The lady had been born in India during the first world war, and had grown up in the British Empire. She was upright, authoritative and as sharp as a tack. It was a joy to hear her stories of the Raj.
Also in the ambulance on that journey was a 96 year-old lady in night clothes, who had been quite ill and was still recovering. She was escorted by her daughter, who was elderly herself. As we travelled along, she opened her eyes and began to compete with the smart lady, telling her own stories and forgetting for a few moments how ill she’d been. It was lovely to watch.
Are there bad times?
Yes. Mentally ill patients can sometimes be difficult to manage, and some patients get angry if they have to wait. I’ve had instances where the patient has been picked up by a relative instead, and they haven’t let us know. Occasionally, there are problems with the vehicle, or I finish late following traffic problems. And, as with all teams, there can sometimes be conflict between personalities.
However, the good times far outweigh the bad.
What surprises you about the job?
Diabetes. It is amazing how many people we see who have this condition. It feels like nearly everyone. We see its disabling impact every day – people who have amputations, renal failure, heart and eye problems. The other big problem is obesity. We have numerous people in extra wide wheelchairs, or unable to manage steps into the ambulance. Many of them are young and prematurely diabetic and/or disabled. We have to expand stretchers, use winches and make risk assessments every day to ensure the safety of both them and us.
Diabetes is very much more pervasive than I have seen in the past. Working on a hospital ward, you see acutely sick diabetics. In everyday life, you see people living their daily lives with the consequences of the disease – this is very different, and shocking.
So, to apply the title of this blog to me:
Do I regret giving up my high-earning job and taking on a role that I thought I might love, but that pays peanuts…..?
From my perspective, although the old fella and I are living on a shoestring to avoid eating into our savings, I’m am very-much more fulfilled and enjoying life, so – NEVER!