Ambulance memoir: The one-armed bandit
Memories of an Ambulanceman
- I have tried to recreate events, locales and conversations from my memories of them. In order to maintain their anonymity and privacy I’ve changed the names of individuals and sometimes places, I may have changed some identifying characteristics, so the people described do not necessarily reflect the actual person or persons involved. Incidents and situations are as I recall.
- Swearing happens. I have used, and will use, some words that some people may find offensive
I was working a late shift, three to eleven, and so far it had been quiet. The day crew had put their vehicle away and were ready to go home and we were having a last game of cards before they went. The phone rang, and as attendant, I rushed through to pick it up.
‘Collapse,’ said control. High Street, Berkhampstead. ‘No other details.’
‘Cheers,’ I said, scribbling the location down on a pad.
I was working with Chris, a Leading Ambulancemen, who was in the first line of management. I was lucky that most of the staff at Berko were seasoned ambulancemen, and Chris was another; someone who would teach me a lot over the years and who would become a good friend. He was one of the best ambulancemen in the service.
We walked out leaving the day crew to lock up and jumped into the motor, Chris fired it up and we swung out of the station, then up the road to the high street and turned a right. Blue lights flashing in the dusk we headed off into town.
I was still at the nervous stage, all manner of things flashed through my mind as to what was in store for us. A collapse could mean anything from someone lying dead in the road to someone who just felt a bit iffy. The only thing we could be certain of was that when we did turn up there would be an audience.
As we approached the scene we could see a little group of people gathering around a figure lying on the pavement. A few hands were raised and waving in the gloom. We pulled up and I jumped out. Grabbing my first-aid bag and the portagen I headed towards the group, Chris following closely behind.
‘What’s happened?’ I asked, as I pushed my way through.
‘He just fell over,’ said a man pointing to our patient. ‘He sort of went weak at the knees and then lay down; hasn’t moved since.’
I put down my bag and cylinder and knelt. ‘Hello, can you hear me?’ I said giving him a little shake. I could already see that he was breathing okay. ‘Are you in any pain?’ I sniffed and could smell the distinct whiff of alcohol. The man was small and thin with dark greasy hair, his clothes looked as though they’d come fresh from a midden.
There was no reply. I shook him again and this time I was rewarded with a grunt. I tried again, talking to him and shaking him, trying to get something tangible out of him.
Chris stood at my side with his hands in his pockets and was mumbling to himself. I turned my head to see what he was doing. He was trying not to laugh.
‘What’s up?’ I asked.
‘You’re still fairly new, so you might not have met our friend here. Just don’t take your eyes off of him,’ he advised.
‘Why?’ I asked.
Just then I found out why.
As soon as Chris had stopped talking there was a collective intake of breath as an arm came arcing through the air, aimed right at my head!
I ducked and moved my head just as the limb whizzed by, it came so close I could feel it tickle the hairs on my head.
‘That’s why,’ replied Chris. He moved in quickly, grabbed the errant arm and pinned it down. He then leant forward to speak quietly to our patient.
‘We’ve just about had enough of you.’
‘Fuck off,’ replied our patient.
‘No, you fuck off,’ Chris advised, he then turned to me. ‘This gentleman is one of our regulars and a nasty piece of shit he is too.’
The crowd moved back rapidly leaving just me and Chris within striking distance.
The patient waited a few seconds and then started to scramble to his feet, it was then I noticed that something about the arm looked odd. The man stood and then sort of staggered off, pushing people out of the way.
The air was thick with expletives coming from the onlookers and aimed at our ex-patient, they weren’t amused that they had been fooled and that their entertainment was nothing more than someone taking the piss. I would come across him quite regularly over the coming years; someone who’s only joy in life was to find some way of being the centre of attention, an alcoholic with bloody great chip on his shoulder.
Chris turned to me. ‘Notice anything about the arm?’ he asked, as we watched the drunkard head off down the road.
‘False?’ I enquired.
Chris nodded. ‘Meet the one-armed bandit. Alcoholic and violent. That arm has smacked ambulancemen and coppers alike; and it fucking hurts, I can tell you.’
It was nice to know that even old hands like Chris could sometimes get it wrong!