In the first of our new series, we chat to Boundless member Alex Wood about his extraordinary working life as a health professional
Find out more about the role of a Emergency Care Assistant and what it's like to work for the NHS Ambulance Service.
As an Emergency Care Assistant (ECA) I work alongside a paramedic, assisting as they administer drugs and make the clinical decisions. I work part-time for South Western Ambulance Service Trust, which fits around my other job running a web design business. For 20 years I’ve mostly been in an office, so you couldn’t ask for more of a contrast between that and my ECA work; it’s rewarding to help people when they’re in need.
Every shift is different and you never know what’s coming next. We generally work a ten- or 12-hour shift, with one or two breaks depending on how busy we are. Some days we see eight or nine patients; others, only two or three.
On a night shift, especially at weekends, we attend more jobs related to mental health or alcohol misuse. There have been a few occasions of drug or alcohol-related cases where I’ve never been more grateful to see the police arrive. Most patients are good with ambulance crews, but confrontations can be scary.
Inside the ambulance
One of the big things I’ve learnt is how vulnerable and lonely older people can be. We attend a lot of jobs where they have fallen and can’t get up, and sometimes we’re the only people they’ve spoken to for days. We frequently end up chatting or making them a cup of tea. I’ve fed cats, made beds and we even fixed someone’s central heating. We’re in the privileged position of getting to see people in their time of need, at their most vulnerable, and being invited into their homes and lives for that short time.
The hardest thing is treating someone who is terminally ill, or an older person who lives alone. Taking someone into hospital knowing they might not come out is hard, and anything involving children is always emotionally challenging. Those jobs stick with me the most.
My ambulance trust has a good network for staff who need support. If we want to talk about jobs we’ve been to or things we’re finding hard there’s always someone available, either on the phone or in person, and that’s something I’ve been grateful for a number of times. Some jobs can be harrowing, but my colleagues have all been through similar experiences. The camaraderie in the station is great, and different from the small office environment I’m used to.
The best things about being in the Ambulance Service
We feel so appreciated when a patient or a relative says thank you. I recently attended a job while off duty and the patient was rushed to hospital, leaving me alone with their relative. They shook my hand and thanked me for what I’d done; moments like that really make the job worthwhile. Someone also stopped me in Sainsbury’s recently and paid for my snacks, to say thanks to the Ambulance Service for helping her dad. I had a tear in my eye after that.
I seem to have a habit of coming across jobs when I’m not at work. In the last six months I’ve stopped to help at a choking, quite a few seizures, a couple of falls and some road traffic collisions with both cars and bikes. The first-aid knowledge and experience I’ve gained certainly gives me the confidence to stop and help now.
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