Originally from Australia, Pat has worked for the London Ambulance Service since 2015 responding to the 999 calls. He has worked as a paramedic on a bike, and also worked up in the control room, on training ambulances and mentoring new staff. Since August he has been working on the Fast Response Unit, the car in the photo. What has life been like for a paramedic in recent times? Read on. Pat has been a philosophy student in London for 2 years.
Paramedic in a Pandemic
Pat Tibballs, London/Melbourne
I feel the last 9 months has been a rollercoaster for most, and for me that is no exception. I live with 4 other Paramedics and when the pandemic began we found ourselves rather busy at work.
It became the norm for my colleagues and housemates to respond to seriously ill people. We went from seeing one cardiac arrest every 2-3 months to seeing 4 or 5 in a week. Working amongst the virus, it wasn’t long before one of my housemates became symptomatic.
Our house went into quarantine which, while having its difficulties, was a welcome chance for the world to slow down. Pausing and the awareness exercise became pillars of not only sanity, but also happiness. Online philosophy classes were a welcome respite and reminder of what’s important, as the household returned to a state of good health and returned to work.
I moved from the front line ambulances to working in the control room, calling patients back to assess them over the phone and refer them to appropriate care. When I began it felt like I was learning another language. I had to re-learn how to assess a patient, get familiar with the computer systems and meet my new colleagues, some of whom were doing jobs I didn’t know existed in the ambulance world.
As lockdown carried on, our work-load eased and I have been able to observe peaceful moments at work. Life at home has somewhat returned to normal. We’ve returned to having Sunday roasts, board games nights and planning our next adventures. All the while being vigilant for the next wave.
What does a paramedic do?
From my experience there’s a lack of understanding of what a paramedic is or does. Some days even I don’t know what my job is! But I’ve come to understand it as helping people in their emergencies. “Their emergencies” covers the widest variety of conditions and injuries.
At one end of the scale we attend the major trauma patients who may have been stabbed, involved in a car accident, or fallen from a building, where time is critical. We also respond to medical emergencies where our patients may be in cardiac arrest, suffering a life-threatening breathing condition or a stroke.
This end of the scale also includes sick children, (who we have to remember are not just smaller adults) women in labour, where we quite potentially have to deal with two patients, and patients who need end of life care, and helping families with the grieving process.
These jobs can be stressful, but for the most part this is what we train to do, this is our area of expertise. We have a variety of medications and equipment that can be used to ease a patient’s difficulty breathing, stop their bleeding, or ease their pain before we transport them to hospital.
Reassuring presence of a paramedic
Alongside our medications and equipment, the biggest tool we have in our toolkit is our reassuring presence. There’s a saying that we use on the road that we should all act like swans in these stressful jobs, gliding elegantly on top of the water for all to see, despite your little feet kicking frantically along under the water.
Reassurance is the main skill we use for the other end of the spectrum of emergencies we get called for. There’s the four year old who has fallen over, grazed their knee and has panicked their parents. Then the 17 year old who has been to their gym for the first time since lockdown and has a sore back. There’s a 32 year old who has been at work 60 hours this week and is stressed and anxious. Or the 74 year old with dementia who is a little more confused today.
These patients rarely require life-saving interventions, and often don’t get taken to hospital. As clinicians we sometimes forget that emergencies come in all shapes and sizes. These jobs do have their own silver lining, they provide a break from the high intensity situations. We take the good with the bad, the sick with the well and do our best to ensure everyone receives appropriate care.
Meeting the School
My appetite for philosophy was first whetted on an airplane to Melbourne in 2017. I took my seat next to an older gentleman. The usual polite small talk quickly turned into an interesting 8-hour discussion on “practical philosophy” which he taught at the Erasmus school.
The gentleman, Warwick Brewster, passed his details on to me. As I put more of the principles we had discussed into practice, I became more enamoured with what he had to say. We met up, and continue to do so each time I return home.
I came to rely on the principles we discussed; the books he gave me allowed me to deal with various misadventures while travelling in Europe. My friends in the UK noticed I seemed generally more confident.
I was a little dubious at first of joining a class at the School. It took a dark London winter, as well as more close house mates returning to Australia – to take up his advice. In 2019 I joined the School, very grateful for the flexibility of coming to different nights of the week. I could attend despite my rotating shift patterns at work.
Has practical philosophy helped in your daily life and work?
Yes, in all ways! The small, deep content from Warwick has helped me see decisions and trains of thought I wouldn’t have previously noticed. His way of doing things and his influence became my foundation for practical philosophy. It put me in touch with my own moral compass.
He allowed me to see the world of friendly people, the beauty of what is natural and the flow of grace. All it took was to change the lenses I saw the world through. It was invaluable to have my vague notions of what is true verified by someone with such natural confidence; although I may not have understood truth at the time.
The School has provided a wonderful fallback for my day to day decision-making. If I’m ever stuck trying to figure out what a wise person would do, I imagine what one of the tutors would do. If that doesn’t work, I ask them!
I’ve found that household chores are no longer tasks, but opportunities to be mindful. I remember that happiness is the natural state. My interactions at work with people who would otherwise rile me up can be pleasant and fulfilling, by remembering that love is the natural in between.
Having explored the concept of love I also feel that the time I spend with people brings more happiness than it used to. Being aware to avoid attachment or desire, giving for no other reason than love, and seeing all the world as a stage removes any unnecessary drama or negative thoughts.
A paramedic also needs leisure!
I do very much enjoy open spaces. When I first moved to London my handful of friends were keen to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. We started going on day hikes, which turned into overnight hikes, overnight cycle trips, multi-day adventures, culminating in the cat cars. A group of 7 of us decided it would be a good idea to drive from London to Mongolia over the course of 6 weeks. It was an incredible adventure, and opened our eyes to the vastly different worlds people live in. It reinforced how little you need to not only survive, but to be happy.
Over the years I’ve very much enjoyed being out in nature. But it’s been Practical Philosophy that has allowed me to find the abundance of stillness there. The difference that the senses perceive, of very natural sensations, and an opportunity to disengage from thoughts and other stimuli.
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