There has been a silence from the Little White Donkey for a while. I have been travelling a different path; one that has left me with little spare time over the last week.
Since, aged eleven, I watched Randolph Mantooth and Kevin Tighe racing out of Station 51 in their paramedic vehicle through all the seasons of Emergency! and Emergency One!, I have wanted to be a paramedic. When I took the early steps toward joining the Army in the late ‘80’s, the recruiter looked at my ASVAB results and said: “Ms Asproulla, with your language skills, your test scores, and your college education, we think you’re an ideal candidate for Officer Training School and the Language Program.” I replied: “Sergeant, I want to be a medic in the Airborne Infantry!” and badgered him until he assured me that, should I sign on the dotted line, that’s what I’d be. (Thank goodness I didn’t travel that path, but returned to Egypt instead on the advice of several soldier friends: “Asproulla, you wouldn’t do well in the Army, you argue too much!”)
Now, thirty-five years after I became aware of the job ‘paramedic’, I have just completed a course for Emergency Care Assistants, the first rung on the ladder toward being one.
Paramedics did not officially exist in Cyprus until recently. If you had to call an ambulance, you might or might not get one from the General Hospital. If one came, it would certainly have a driver, but he would probably have little or no first aid training. A nurse might be on board, or another bod to help with lifting, but attendants had little or no medical experience, and at least sixty people died each year because of the lack of trained first responders.
John Thompson and Houston Medical are changing that. For at least five years, John (from here on known as Da Boss) – a former medic with the Royal Army Medical Corps, a paramedic, trainer, and Health and Safety Officer on North Sea oil rigs -- has made the creation of a private ambulance service with trained crews his mission. Alternating working on the rig for two weeks with returning home to Paphos for two weeks, he has managed to build a five-ambulance fleet that serves a small number of – mostly expat – subscribers. Now he is starting to train crews in earnest, and I was in on the first course.
SH, an old friend of Da Boss, came over from the UK where he works as a trainer of paramedics and put Houston’s current employees (J, a twenty-year driver for the Scottish Ambulance Service and a veteran of the Lockerbie bombing; ST, another Scot, a former mechanic and police recovery driver, married to C who worked as a dispatcher for Scottish Ambulance Service – yes, it confuses me when they refer to their time in the SAS; B, twenty-five years in the Royal Engineers who built the beachhead in the Falklands; and R, a Swiss paramedic who has just gone home for an operation) and me (the Cherry) through a forty-hour course that included casualty assessment, diagnoses, advanced first aid, and evacuation techniques as well as discussing mass casualty response and triage.
The week was exhausting and stimulating. Not only were there many hours of lectures, but there were long periods of practical work as well. We – or at least I (it was Old Hat to the others, but they needed their paperwork in order) learned to take blood pressure and blood sugar readings, to insert different types of airways, to suction, to splint, to use an orthopaedic scoop and a spine board; we learned different techniques of helmet removal, and different lifts. On Sunday we provided medical cover to the Paphos Tigers rugby match (some knee injuries, a couple of stubbed toes, and a few gashes requiring Steri-Strips).
When the course finished, SH took me aside saying “Well, you’d better trot down here on Wednesday then, and ask Da Boss about a job. I think you’d be an asset.”
So I did. And for the first time since 1988, I have a job. Part time – event cover for now, until I have more time up on the vehicles and more training -- also until there is more money around in the shape of a full-time contract for medical cover at Pissouri village (several Pissourans have died of heart attacks over the last few years, and the muchtar is keen to have a crew from Houston based there 24/7 – right up my alley since it’s just down the road). I get a nice dark blue uniform and weekly training sessions. In a few months, I hope to be able to get training in advanced driving techniques so that I will be able to drive the ambulances.
All this is not without a degree of angst on my part. Despite all the things I’ve done and all the places I’ve been – many of them hairy – I have never seen as much as a road accident (ok, I was in a bus crash in Egypt, but that was at night, and there were very few injuries, none of them horrific), let alone dealt with heart attacks, broken bones or any of the other conditions that we spent the last week talking about. Except for my parents, who both died at home after illness, I’ve never seen death. I wonder how I’ll cope. “Train hard and fight easy,” was SH’s answer, and Da Boss said: “Don’t worry lass, you’ll no’ panic on us!” (Yes, he’s a Scot, too).
Meanwhile, I’m still working in the field and delivering veg, still ferrying children about, and still trying to find time and head-space for writing. The adventure continues…