Here I am with Charlie, circa 2008. We sometimes worked together, sharing driving and attending duties.
This particular day I was attending, which means sitting with the patient and making sure they are ok during the journey, making sure they are at ease and talking with them and sometimes introducing a little humour now and then, or just listening to them, often pouring out their tales of woe. We were prepared for anything, literally . . . . . but this day surprised me.
We arrived with a stretcher to pick up a lady patient to transfer her by ambulance to another hospital 25 miles away, a slow 40 minute journey, because this lady had a back problem and was in a lot of pain. She was due for surgery to replace four worn out discs in her spine. Quite a dangerous procedure ~ and one incidentally my sister-in-law will have next year.
I saw her pretty face, attractive and smiling; marred somewhat by lines of pain, yet still framing her bright, lively green eyes and long dark raven hair. I suppose she must have been in her mid forties and she was lying on her front, since this was the only position seeming to offer her any comfort. Her face showed pain, anguish and worry about the surgical ordeal she was soon to face and at once I felt a surge of empathy and sympathy for her. I started reassuring her straight away that we would make sure she got as pain free a ride as we could possibly give her, and made her laugh when I said she would have to put up with me for 45 minutes or so while Charlie drove us.
I cannot remember this lady's name now, but on that day her voice and laugh seemed very musical and I could see she really did have a cheerful disposition, currently buried beneath her painful circumstances. We seemed to make a connection straight away ~ you know, sometimes we can meet a perfect stranger and immediately feel at ease with them, talk with them effortlessly, and genuinely like them ~ I am sure we have all felt this at times. On this day it seemed to work both ways for us.
We managed to transfer her to the stretcher with a few instances of pain unfortunately, but settled her on the stretcher again and wheeled her to the ambulance, still lying face down. She was looking at me all the way as we talked. I sat with her for the journey and immediately we seemed to make a connection and after several minutes I managed not only to reassure her that I had heard about many successful surgical procedures like she was having, but also I made her laugh ~ boy did I make her laugh. It was such a delight to see her laugh like that and sometimes I had to apologise when she actually belly laughed and I could see this hurt her back a few times. She just dismissed that with a wave of the hand, preferring to enjoy the humour. She said she had not laughed like that for many years, and quite frankly I had not heard anyone laugh like that for a very long time. I was just telling her some funny stories and experiences I had in my job and how we 'took the Mick' out of each other sometimes. Charlie, driving at the front, told me later she was highly amused.
Then, at a stroke, her eyes filled with tears when she told me how worried she was about the forthcoming surgery and her fear that things might go wrong, and would she ever be the same again and lead a normal life. I took her hand and asked her if she would mind if I prayed for her and her face lit up and she really welcomed it, so I did. She said I was so understanding and approachable and took and held my hand and squeezed it several times, and thanked me for my kindness.
It turned out that our daughters had the same name and were the same age, although I had a son as well. She told me where she worked, at a doctor's practice as a receptionist in the town we were headed and she hoped to be able to resume work there some day. I said I knew the town very well and she actually told me the road she lived, and I knew it well.
It is very strange that the ambulance job did sometimes offer opportunities to really get to know people quickly and occasionally the intensity of the situation did affect emotions in quite a powerful way.
We arrived at the hospital, and transferred her to her new bed. It was then she turned to me and said, "Please come and see me ~ I shouldn't really be saying this, but I think I have fallen for you and it would be so sad if I never saw you again!" She knew I was happily married so there was no question of anything between us. On my way out I looked back and saw she had managed to turn round and wave to me and I noticed a tear flow from one eye but did not know whether this was a tear of pain, or a tear for me.
To this day I still don't know why she said that to me, or what caused her to say it. Maybe she saw a temporary relief from her plight, which clouded her judgement . . . who knows? . . . . maybe it was the uniform . . . . :)
I did go and see her again, a few times when I was in the area, because I wanted to see if she was alright after surgery. She had her operation ok, which was a complete success. She was transferred back to Bristol for convalescence and I saw her again during my job, transferring another patient to that hospital. It was then I said goodbye and wished her well. I have often wondered how she is and whether she managed to get back to work, whether she is happy and enjoying life ~ we often wonder these things when our job with patients is over.
Well ladies, you can put your box of tissues away now . . . I am afraid I cannot promise you another story like that one.
Aw . . . lol
Next week ~ how a blind man was able to direct me to his home, 30 miles away, from being strapped in a wheelchair in the back of a vehicle ~ quite unbelievable, but true.