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Ambulance crews: Heroes, not villains

All around the world, emergency services have a tough, often distasteful and sometimes very dangerous job to do. Car wrecks are probably the calls that fire and ambulance men find the hardest to handle. The horrific injuries that are be caused to the human body by the impact of crushed steel, can be traumatizing for those who have to cut free and try to keep victims alive.
It is not a job that many people would care to do. Often, time is of the essence. A high-speed drive to the scene of an injury can be risky enough, especially in Saudi traffic. Once arrived safely, a paramedic at an automobile wreck knows that he must act immediately to stabilize a victim’s condition, provide oxygen and administer morphine to ease pain. In the shortest possible time, he has to assess the extent of a person’s injuries, to decide how best that he or she should be moved. For instance, spinal injuries mean that the head and neck must be immobilized in a neck collar, so that when the victim is transferred to a stretcher and taken to the ambulance, no further trauma is caused to his or her damaged vertebrae.
Then there is the staunching of bleeding and the immediate securing of arms and legs, which may be fractured. Not only this, but if the patient is conscious, one of the most important treatments, the first-aiders can provide, is reassurance. Research has demonstrated that the survival chances of an injured person, who will also be in a state of deep shock, are improved by up to 20 percent, merely by hearing the supportive voice of a first-aider. All of these tasks have to be done under considerable pressure as perhaps, firemen seek to cut injured and dead bodies free from a mass of mangled steel. Added to this, there is often the risk of explosion and fire from spilled fuel. Not for nothing did one local, who recently watched paramedics coping with a nasty smash on the outskirts of Jeddah, say: “Whatever these guys are being paid, it is never going to be enough.”
And there can be no doubting that many lives are saved thanks to the efforts of these brave and dedicated individuals. Moreover it is really good to know that they are there for us, if ever we need them. Yet the medics are complaining that they are encountering extra and, in their view, unnecessary problems when dealing with some emergency calls.
It appears that the families of a few injured people are refusing to let the paramedics carry out any preliminary examination at all, insisting instead that the ambulance men take the victim straight to hospital. On other occasions, the crews report that they have been asked to turn off their sirens and lights, because the relatives of the injured person are “embarrassed” by the attention that they are drawing. There have also been ugly incidents when the paramedics have arrived too late to save a life. Relatives have insisted violently that the ambulance transport the body to the hospital, even though that is not their job.
Such behavior is indicative of a considerable lack of consideration, not to say selfishness. It ought to be obvious to the family, that an ambulance and its crew that is tied up transporting a dead body, is not going to be available to go to the assistance of someone who is still alive, but in danger of dying.
The issue of allowing a paramedic to make a physical examination of an injured person, especially if that person is female, is more delicate. It is virtually impossible to carry out a proper inspection for wounds, or a subcutaneous bleed, which could indicate serious internal injuries that would not otherwise be apparent, without doing a head-to-toe examination. It is not simply in the Kingdom that some families feel deeply uncomfortable with such a procedure. Yet the question has to be asked, do those families place their conservatism above the life and health of a loved one? This is something that only they can answer.
However what is very clear is that, if they choose to block any attempt at first aid before the victim is taken to hospital, they must treat with respect, the ambulance crews in attendance. They are only trying to do their job. It cannot be acceptable that these highly-trained professionals are abused and sometimes even attacked, in the course of trying to carry out their duties. These men are heroes, not villains.