A Day in the Life of a Sydney paramedic

Thursday, 29 October, 2020

A Day in the Life of a Sydney paramedic

Every 26 seconds someone in NSW calls 000 for an ambulance. Responding to an array of incidents across the city, a paramedic won’t know what emergency situation they’ll be called to next. It is sometimes said that paramedics see more trauma in one shift than most people see in a lifetime.

Paramedic Steve Perryman has been working in Sydney for 12 years. He is currently based at St Ives Ambulance station in the city’s north-west. Today we will ride along with him and see what happens. Seatbelts are a must — things may get bumpy.

06:45 Hello, I’m Steve. Today I will be the treating paramedic (we take it in turns to treat and drive). I am working with a good paramedic called Darren. We start our pre-shift checks of the ambulance.

07:01 Our first call of the day comes in. An elderly man has fallen and can’t get up. We arrive at the house but can’t get in so I find the bathroom window open and climb on a bin to get a better position. Removing the flyscreen window I wriggle through, knocking shampoo bottles off the window ledge and into the bath. I open the door for Darren.

Darren (driving) and Steve on the road.

I find the elderly man and assess him. He is not a COVID risk. He has sustained a break to his mid-shaft femur. I get IV access and give him some morphine. We set up a splint and realign the fracture. Another ambulance arrives to help us carry our patient out and into our ambulance.

08:55 A convertible car has crashed at high speed into a telegraph pole. The pole has sheared in half, electric wires are down and the car has come to rest on its side in someone’s front garden. A female passenger has half her body under the car and the driver is trapped above, still in his seat. Someone tells me that a 12-year-old boy may have been ejected from the vehicle. I look around for the boy — the scene is chaotic and people are running around. I find the child some 20 metres away in the neighbour’s front yard. I assess the child and begin treatment, he has several broken bones. With the assistance of two more ambulances we stabilise the three patients and urgently transport them to hospital.

A paramedic never knows what’s in store on any given day.

11:19 Our next patient is a 33-year-old male. He is high on ice and had been walking around with a samurai sword. Because the man is violent and has a weapon, the police are on their way — they quickly get things under control. The man has been tasered and restrained in handcuffs but he is screaming, threatening and violently thrashing. It seems pointless to start asking him about his past whereabouts — has he been isolating? Does he have COVID symptoms?

I give the man an intramuscular injection of droperidol. Unfortunately it does not work so I give him midazolam. Within a few minutes he is settled and it’s now safe for us to transport him to hospital. Police travel with us for safety.

13:38 We are called to a school sports field where a 16-year-old male has been tackled in a game of rugby. He has a fractured ankle. I give him pain relief and splint up his leg. It’s an easier job than the last two and I am grateful for the break (excuse the pun). We take him to hospital and have a nice chat about his school life and his aspirations of becoming an Australian rugby player.

15:21 We race to 76-year-old woman at home with sudden onset of imbalance and slurred speech. The woman has prominent facial droop and her eyes are deviating to the right. She is having a stroke. We rapidly load her into the ambulance and race off to hospital.

17:02 We arrive at the address of a 59-year-old woman in cardiac arrest, with CPR being performed by her family. We frantically put on our PPE. I take over CPR and another ambulance arrives to give us a hand. It’s hot and exhausting doing CPR with a gown and a mask on. We try everything to restore her life but she is not responding to any treatment. Eventually we call it and cease CPR. I place a blanket over her. Sweat drips off my forehead as I stand up. I find the husband in the next room and sadly advise him that his wife has passed away. I sit with him for a while and we have a talk, I make him a cup of tea and organise for his family to come over.

18:38 An unconscious 74-year-old male is in a restaurant nearby. He has diabetes and had briefly passed out. He has low blood sugar so I give him some glucose gel and he perks up. He doesn’t want to go to hospital and he is eagerly waiting for his Mongolian black bean beef to arrive. We leave the man with his family to enjoy a good meal and Darren and I return to our station. We clean up, restock and sign off. We will be back again early in the morning. I wonder what tomorrow will bring…

Main image caption: NSW Ambulance paramedic Steve Perryman

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