[imagesource: David Ritchie/African News Agency]
When we call for the paramedics, we expect them to arrive in a hurry.
After all, it’s often a matter of life or death.
What many of us don’t take into account is the dangers that these paramedics face, on a nightly basis, to try and provide an effective emergency medical response across Cape Town.
IOL reporters recently accompanied medics on duty for the Western Cape Health Department’s Emergency Medical Services (EMS), on a Friday night just after payday.
That’s when their shifts are the most action-packed and fraught with danger:
Before they clock on for the nights’ calls, [Intermediate Life Support medic Rushaana] Gallow teaches us how to stash our phones so they’re harder to find if a criminal frisks us at gunpoint while we’re responding to a call. [Advanced Life Support paramedic Grant] October shows us the secret nooks in the ambulance where we hide the rest of our things. They know, from experience.
A call comes in: a pedestrian has been knocked down in Philippi East. Red lights flashing, DJ Ganyani blaring, siren used sparingly, we move off. It’s in a red zone, which means ambulances have been attacked there recently, but Fire and Rescue is already on scene and we don’t wait for a police escort.
When there’s no patient in sight, we make a U-turn and get out of there in a hurry, suspicious of a set-up. It turns out this time there was a legitimate patient, who was taken to hospital in a private car – but ambushes happen often enough to warrant constant vigilance.
Imagine responding to life and death situations, where you know that every minute lost could cost somebody their life, and you have to worry about arriving at a set-up and being robbed?
The mind really does boggle.
Back in the ambulance they go:
When the next stabbing call comes, there’s no use hurrying. We can’t enter this area without a police escort and police are in no rush. We wait outside Philippi SAPS for around 15 minutes while less than a kilometre away, a man is bleeding.
When we finally arrive, everyone in the house is drunk and the stabbed man walks himself out to the ambulance. Gallow drives him to Mitchells Plain District Hospital’s makeshift emergency centre, only accessible by a long route round the back of the hospital and a painstaking reverse up a narrow gravel driveway.
As the shift draws to a close in the early hours of Saturday morning, a call comes in that is described as ‘Bundu Court’:
“Do you know what a bundu court is?” Gallow asks. “It means community justice. Now you’ll see something.”
A man has broken into a house and the neighbourhood has been roused to deal with him. He has suffered severe head injuries, but another ambulance reached the scene first to whisk him to Groote Schuur Hospital.
We arrive just in time to see neighbours upending buckets of water to rinse the blood down the street.
Yeah, that’s just their average Friday night (and Saturday morning) on the job.
The IOL feature also comes with a video, produced by David Ritchie/African News Agency:
This should go without saying, but the next time you see a paramedic, say thank you.
You can read the full IOL account of the night on duty here.
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