- 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.
Monday morning and here I was dressed up in my shiny new uniform and pulling into the station, which, unknown to me then, was going to be a sort of a home for the next few years. I parked up in the yard and stepped nervously out.
The station was shared with the fire service, but instead of being full-time the fire service here was retained, or part-time, meaning they all had other jobs and just responded when needed, dropping whatever it was they were doing and rushing down to the station to jump on a vehicle. The ambulance side of it was around the back and this is where I parked my car.
All the appliance bay doors were closed and I looked to the side to see how to get in. I found a little door and tentatively knocked, thinking that perhaps I shouldn’t just barge in as if I owned the place. I waited and then saw someone ambling towards me through the glass doors.
‘Ah! You must be Mr Mullis. Come in my boy.’ A distinguished grey haired gentleman bid me entry. He wore an unbuttoned tunic with a clip-on tie hanging off his trouser belt; above his left breast pocket were two rows of medal ribbons. ‘Cuppa tea?’ he added, as he led me into the crew-room.
Three faces looked up at me as I entered, all of them giving off the aura of being old hands. They were seated in old battered arm chairs and leant forward a bit to get a better look at me. Cards were carelessly thrown down on the little table in front of them and each had a tea-stained mug positioned within hands reach. A couple of full ashtrays were balanced on the arms of two of the chairs and thick smoke clung in a fug just below the ceiling.
I tried a nervous smile. ‘Yes please,’ I answered to the tea question. I then looked at the three seated. ‘Er…Hello. I’m Clive and I’m er…meant to be riding out for the week.’
The gentleman who let me in turned and took a few steps towards me, offering his hand. ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t introduce myself. I’m Maurice, and that there is Denny.’ He pointed to another late middle aged gentleman and then stabbed a finger towards the other two. ‘That’s Sam and that’s Paul. You’ll be with me and Denny for the week.’
I looked at them all, nodded and smiled nervously. ‘Er…morning all.’
‘Ignore those old sods,’ said Maurice, smiling broadly. ‘Come through here and I’ll show where to throw your stuff.’
‘And don’t forget to show him the bloody kitchen,’ laughed Sam, in a thick Northern Ireland accent as I disappeared into the corridor. Now I knew what was to be my main duty for the week. Tea making.
Maurice showed me the vehicle, which was a Bedford CF, sitting in the second bay in the appliance room. I thought I should show some willing as I asked whether I should check anything but was met with a quizzical look. ‘Don’t be daft; we’ve had a quick look so that’s all done for the week now. Let’s go get the tea.’
Both Maurice and Denny had been in the service for years, both had been through the war and there was nothing that could ever faze either of them. The other two, who were the early crew and doing a seven-to-three shift, were just as experienced and just as welcoming. Within a few minutes I was sat down in a chair with a hot cup of tea and my very own ashtray balanced on the arm.
It was explained what was to happen this day. The nine to five vehicle, which was the one I was on, had planned work allocated. This meant that there was a work list on the printer for us to do. We were taking a small list of patients to their out-patient appointments at Stoke Mandeville hospital in Aylesbury. There was also what was called a sitting-car vehicle, which was already out doing similar work and was single manned, but we had the patients who needed two people to help move them.
Straight away I discovered that neither Maurice nor Denny liked driving, and I suppose having me there made life better for both of them as I was shoe-horned into the driving seat and told that I could drive for the week – unless an emergency call came in, but they thought that was going to be unlikely. At that time there was no driving course, if you had a license and could drive a hundred yards without hitting anything, then that was good enough.
I was a bit disappointed in the fact that we were basically just a taxi service. For the previous three weeks we had practiced dealing with dramatic life threatening incidents and I was hoping that I could at least see how it was all done out on the road. I learnt that the station was generally very quiet. Emergencies calls happened, but not very often.
The week went by with me driving several times to Aylesbury and back, a slow lunch at the station and then back out to Aylesbury again. The patients we had were regulars and were a lively bunch and quickly picked up on the fact that I was new. Encouraged by both Maurice and Dave I was generally the butt of all the jokes, most of them near the knuckle as the patients were mainly London women who were bombed out in the blitz, or had been moved on due to the slum clearances, or were locals where farming was the way of life. I was just getting used to the fact that this was going to be my week when half way through lunch, about three days in, the red phone rang. This elicited some strange looks between Maurice and Denny. I on the other hand felt the back of my neck begin to tingle and my heart beat quicker.
Denny answered the phone.
‘Yep, yep, yep,’ he repeated. ‘What do you mean there’s no-one else? Where’s Hemel? Where’s the other vehicle?’ These were always the questions when a call came in from another area, even today, the response will be just the same. ‘Oh, all right,’ replied Denny, with a sigh. ‘If we have to.’
Apparently we had to.
The call was to a dentist in Hemel Hempstead where someone had suffered a sudden illness, strangely enough it was my dentist, so I could understand someone being unwell having been under the ministrations of that particular dentist. Maurice jumped into the driver’s seat while Denny jumped in the back. I sat up front and tried to look as if I knew what I was doing. I picked up the radio handset.
‘732 mobile red.’ I spoke into the thing as I was told to by Maurice.
There was a pause.
‘Who’s that?’ said the confused crackly voice on the other end of the radio.
Denny leant through and grabbed the handset out of my hand. ‘His name is Clive and he’s just started with us.’
Another pause. ‘Oh yes, I can see that now, he’s on my list. Welcome Clive, and good luck. You’ll need it.’
We trundled out of the station and then up the hill and out into the country lanes and through the villages. Once up the hill Maurice managed to get a little speed out of the vehicle and eventually we were moving along at a reasonable pace. Both my colleagues were hoping that a nearer vehicle would become available so we would get stood down, while I was hoping we would get there.
Unfortunately for my two friends, they were wrong – we got there. We pulled up outside and Denny hopped off the back with his first aid bag and a small oxygen cylinder called a portagen. I opened the cab door and followed him in. It was a very small waiting room and there were three people sitting waiting for their turn in the dreaded chair as we walked in. The receptionist looked worried as she showed us through the narrow wicker door and guided us to the patient.
The dentist was stood there with a look of shock on his face, very similar to the one I normally wore after having visited him – fortunately he didn’t recognise me.
‘Hello mate,’ said Denny to the dentist. ‘What you done ‘ere?’
The dentist looked at Denny and then at the patient. ‘Well, he just came in for a filling,’ he replied, missing entirely the inference in Denny’s question. ‘He went a bit stiff all of a sudden and then this. I think he’s had a stroke.’
The patient was sort of slumped in the chair and appeared to be snoring. He was elderly, a bit overweight and was red in the face. The left half of his face was drooping and spittle leaked from the corner of his mouth. His eyes were staring and frightened.
‘If I saw you coming towards me with a drill I might do the same,’ replied Denny with a grin. He then smiled at the patient. ‘You’ll be all right mate, don’t worry. Soon have you at the hospital.’
The man’s wife was stood in corner looking very concerned.
Denny reached forward and picked up his left arm, he held it up for a bit and then let it go. It flopped straight back down. He then lifted his right arm up and let this go too, it stayed there momentarily and then fell more slowly back to his lap. He put a mask on his face and turned on the oxygen. He stood there a moment while he took a pulse. ‘That’s bouncing about like a road drill,’ he said, presumably for my benefit. ‘Chair and two plus two.’ He said to me by way of instruction, meaning he wanted a carry-chair, two blankets and two incontinence pads.
I nodded and hurried out to tell Maurice who was still sat waiting in the driver’s seat.
‘No point in all of us going in,’ he said in explanation. ‘I already know what to do.’
This time we both went in and now the dentist’s room was quite full. There were the three of us, the dentist, the receptionist and the patient and his wife. Room to swing a cat there was not. By shifting some stuff we managed to get the chair next to the dentist’s chair. Gloves in those days were not normally used and Denny slipped his arms beneath the patient’s arms and grabbed hold of his wrists. I was guided round by Maurice to the other side and told to slide one arm around his waist and the other beneath his knees. Maurice took the feet. This was called a top and tail, I realised my mistake straight away. Maurice just grinned, and then so did Denny. The clue had been the incontinence pads.
With my arms sodden wet and my nose a scant inch from his groin where the smell wafted nicely up my nose, we lifted. I slipped a bit and my clean elbow went straight into the puddle on the chair. Great, I thought, as I wondered whether I should go back to the job centre. A few grunts and a couple of shuffles later we managed to get the patient onto the chair and wrapped up in blankets. Denny tipped back the carry-chair onto its wheels and pulled him out. Maurice dodged in front of me and I followed up in the rear, arms dripping and giving off a wonderful aroma of ammonia. The patients in the waiting room didn’t look very happy as we dragged the unfortunate man through – if this was what a visit to the dentist entailed then they may be having second thoughts. I wasn’t too happy either.
I learnt two things that day.
One was to never get the bottom end in a lift if at all possible, and two, always have a change of clothes back at the station. For the rest of that day everyone steered well clear of me – but at least I got out of making the tea!