I am a 26-year-old female paramedic who’s been working for the Western Cape Ambulance Service for the past 5 years. This is the career I dreamed of practically all my life. There was so much respect shown for these men and women in uniform back then, that I too wanted to be that hero saving the day, perhaps even saving your family members.
After completing matric I immediately studied in the emergency medical field and started off as one of the youngest people working in the field. My friends and family would always enjoy the stories I’d come home with after my 12-hour shift; long resuscitations that had positive outcomes, successful maternal deliveries or having to jump into totally wrecked vehicles on a motor vehicle accident (MVA) scene to rescue injured or trapped patients. Sound exciting?
Well, how about being called out to an unresponsive infant and, on arrival, finding an already dead baby in the mom’s arms? Or resuscitating a medically ill or trauma patient and eventually having to break the news to the parents or family about the death of the patient? As emotional human beings, it’s the most unpleasant part of the job.
Lately, the tough times we as emergency personnel are experiencing, are the rise in attacks on us as vulnerable people. I have already had circumstances whilst treating patients on scenes where gangsters were still shooting, or assault cases whereby the community is still fighting. I have been held at gunpoint, threatened and assaulted physically and verbally while on duty and it has reached a point whereby my family has become fearful for my safety whenever I get dressed and leave for work.
The reason why I still return to work is because, through all the ups and downs, there are still genuine and under-privileged people out there who need the service we render. It is extremely scary when one or more crews will call out “priority” over the radio. The fear in their voices sends shivers down my spine and I’ll start saying a silent prayer, because that is the term we use for an emergency when something has happened to the crew and help is needed.
In the past 2 or more years, it’s become so bad that the provincial government has developed a temporary safety plan for the high-risk areas known as Red Zones. We go to the police station and wait for an SAPS vehicle to escort us to the scene and out again.
I believe that the only people who can permanently help us as emergency personnel are the community. The community must change their behaviour and start respecting us for the service we render. At the end of the day they need us and depend on our service in emergency situations and we can only help them if they help us. If we can get each and every person in the community to help, protect and assist us then we will be able to attend to the needs of the community.
Written by Candice Sauls, Paramedic