VIDEO: The graveyard shift – A day in the life of a paramedic

We join the Emer-G-Med crew on their graveyard shift to get a glimpse into the life-or-death world of a paramedic.

The driver is dead. Three passengers are critical. Four young students. All still trapped in their seats in the mangled wreck of the customised red Golf GTI.

The car’s engine is on fire next to the wreck.

Smoke, sirens and rushed calls fill the air. When paramedics arrive, a crowd is already agog.

Everybody in the Emer-G-Med crew knows what needs to be done; they know this drill.

“This is a bad one,” says Braam Kruger, Emer-G-Med spokesperson and paramedic.

With their gear in hand, all three paramedics run to the devastation, not knowing what they could be met with.

But the night didn’t start off as hectic.

“That’s what I love about this job – not knowing what to expect. Every day is different. There’s a new challenge, a new project every time we go out,” says Kruger.

The first call of the evening comes in at 18:00. The radio flares up. A motorcyclist has been hit by a bakkie.

Woo-woo-woo … The siren blares on the orange and red lights of the first responder BMW 320i, kitted out in the Emer-G-Med colours.

The slogan: “When seconds count” makes sense as you rush to the scene.

The drive was too far for Kruger to be first on scene, and another paramedic service is already treating the injured man. He confirms that the situation is under control.

Moving on.

It is a Friday night, but the roads are quiet, so we head to Romeo Romeo, the code name given to one of the meeting points for paramedics, security companies and police.

“There’s a lot of waiting around,” says Kruger.

The crew takes a breather between calls. Photo: Kristian Meijer.
The crew takes a breather between calls. Photo: Kristian Meijer.

Before long, the second call comes in. Another accident, this time on the N14 South, close to the Jean Avenue off-ramp.

The drive is a long one. Another paramedic service is already on scene, but assistance is needed. A drunk driver rear-ended another car, trapping driver in the car.

With a team effort and careful manoeuvring, he is extricated from the wreck of his Polo Vivo.

And off again.

At 21:00 someone calls in a house fire in Raslouw.

Sirens on.

A security company and the fire department join the convoy. No clear address is given for the fire, and nobody can find it. After 30 minutes, the search is called off.

It is cold quiet and quiet.

Romeo Romeo is abuzz with police and paramedics.

“Some nights nothing happens, and other nights everything happens,” says Kruger.

Just as Kruger thinks this might remain a quiet one, he gets a call at 01:00: Car on fire, N14 North before the Jean Avenue off-ramp.

Police, security and paramedics scatter. Everybody has their own route to the scene.

The sirens pierce the cold air.

The Emer-G-Med crew is the first of the Romeo Romeo crowd and arrives just after another medical team.

It is chaos. Fire and smoke. Pieces of the car litter the closed road.

A cool head is essential.

“You have to know yourself before you can even think of being able to help others. You have to be mindful of what is going on,” says Kruger.

“We have to be the ones who bring calm to the situation. We are there in times of need, and sometimes we have to be counsellors as well.”

The driver of the red GTI is dead in his seat.

“The driver is P4,” the shouts come through from other paramedics.

The passenger in the rear right is lying halfway out of the boot, unconscious. The front passenger is also unconscious, but still in his seat.

The passenger in the left backseat is squirming. He is awake, but critical. This is the man the Emer-G-Med crew helps. He is P1 (critical).

Emer-G-Med paramedic Jarryd Haupt reaches into the car to see if the man can be freed. He can and the crew lifts him out.

His eyes aren’t focused in the same direction, a sign of possible head trauma. He fights against the help, making it difficult for the crew.

Paramedic Jarryd Haupt checks on the injured 21-year-old man. Photo: Kristian Meijer.
Paramedic Jarryd Haupt assesses the injured 21-year-old man. Photo: Kristian Meijer.

“In a situation like this, you have to know what your strengths-, and the strengths of the group are. If you need to step back and let someone else take over, you do. You cannot let your ego come before patient care,” says Kruger.

The crew manages to stabilise the man and lift him into the ambulance. They are the second ones on scene but the first to get a patient out.

Small victories.

The man, a 21-year-old student at the University of Witwatersrand, is rushed to Kalafong hospital.

Rushed but calm inside the ambulance. Photo: Kristian Meijer.
Rushed but calm inside the ambulance. Photo: Kristian Meijer.

The hospital takes over his care after Kruger briefs them on the care he has received.

The paperwork takes ages. Every ounce of medication and every treatment is recorded. Any mistake can cost a life.

“Yes, it is true that we see a lot of death, but we don’t let it get us down. We separate our emotions from our work, from the task at hand. PTSD will sink in if you don’t learn to separate yourself from what you do.”

In the parking lot outside the ICU, the crew spends a few minutes to calm themselves before debriefing at 03:30.

“You have to do this. Any achievement or concern has to be noted. It is cardinal that you know how you did, what you did, and where you can improve,” said Kruger.

Emer-G-Med paramedics Braam Kruger, Jarryd Haupt and freelance paramedics Attie Erasmus debriefing after the accident. Photo: Kristian Meijer.
Emer-G-Med paramedics Braam Kruger, Jarryd Haupt and freelance paramedics Attie Erasmus debrief after the accident. Photo: Kristian Meijer.

The drive home is quiet. Everyone is tired, but content.

“This isn’t a normal job. If you want an 8 to 5, this is not for you,” says Kruger.

“This is a lifestyle. You live for the work, you live to help people. And that is our reward.”

The Emer-G-Med crew. Photo: Kristian Meijer.
The Emer-G-Med crew. Photo: Kristian Meijer.

Also read:

A day in the life of a street recycler.

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