First job

  • 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.
  • Swearing happens. I have used, and will use, some words that some people may find offensive.

The year is 1981


One thing about working on an ambulance at Berkhampstead in the early eighties was that it couldn’t be said to be busy. My first morning in my new job saw me drinking tea, smoking and pacing around the station, ostensibly to find my way around. However, Berko was a small station, so it didn’t take very long. On a Sunday there was just one crew on, and we were it, the seven to three crew.

We worked a three shift pattern; seven in the morning until three in the afternoon, then three until eleven at night, and then the night shift, which was from eleven to seven in the morning, doing each eight hour shift for seven days in a row.

Matt spent most of the morning asleep, while I was still too twitchy to even think about closing my eyes. There was no morning telly in those days, so the box sat idle in the corner. I picked up my book, read a little and then put it back down again. Stupidly I left my lunch box at home as I was thinking about what my day would entail and walked out forgetting to pick it up. I was hungry but had nothing to eat.

Matt continued to snore until a sharp piercing ring rang through the station. I jumped. It was the red phone! I leapt up and went through to the office as Matt was still groggy from sleep. Normally the attendant answered the phone while the driver made the tea, but he sort of waved a floppy arm and mumbled that I should answer it.

‘Hello, Berko,’ I said tremulously.

‘ ‘allo Berko, is that Clive?’


‘Not done a lot this morning, ‘ave you?’


‘Never mind. Seeing that you’ve ‘ad a good sleep, you may as well ‘ave a dinner as well. Time for break.’

‘Oh, right. Thanks.’

I put the phone down and went back to the crew room. Matt looked up with a questioning eyebrow.

‘They said it’s time for break.’

‘Oh good,’ came the reply.

Immediately he began to rummage in his bag and brought out a box of sandwiches. I looked on slightly enviously as mine were still sitting on the table back home. It was only another three hours, so I suppose it wouldn’t kill me to wait a little longer.

Matt was munching through his sandwiches and chatting at the same time, I began to learn a little bit more about the station and the service as a whole when the phone rang again. Matt sort of gave a yelp of delight and jumped up to answer. The delight was because if you got a spoiled meal break, you got money for having the break interrupted. I could hear a few yes’s and righteo’s and then I heard the phone hit the cradle.

‘We got a red call,’ he called out, and then came through clutching a piece of paper. ‘Collapse, sudden illness. Not too far, just around the corner really.’

My heart began to race and already I could feel the adrenaline coursing through my system. I hoped I would get used to all this as if this happened every time the phone rang I would be knackered by the end of the day.

I jumped into the driver’s seat while Matt pulled the appliance room door open. I drove out and waited as he closed it. He then jumped in and gave me the address.

‘Er…Where’s that?’

Matt was very patient. ‘Do a right down Castle Street, I’ll guide you the rest of the way.’

I switched the headlights on and pulled the switch to turn on the blue lights. I put the motor into gear, released the clutch and then we sort of kangerooed across the yard. The clutch was a bit fierce. I jumped on the brake and brought the vehicle to a stop. I grinned an apology and then tried again, this time managing to drive the bloody thing properly.

We had the address, but details of the job were scant. Just a collapse/sudden illness, which in reality could mean anything. Matt guided me through the streets to a very well-to-do road with big modern detached houses. He checked the address and we pulled up outside. We got out and started to walk to the front door. Matt turned around and looked at the vehicle.

‘I think it might be a good idea to turn them off.’ He pointed to the roof where the blue lights were still revolving; I’d forgotten to turn them off. ‘I don’t think we’re going to need them here.’

Sheepishly I turned around and went back, switched the blue lights off, and then the headlights, as I had left them on as well, and hurried back just as the front door opened.

A well dressed middle aged woman stood there looking worried and upset.

‘Oh God, I’m glad you’re here. He’s in the front room.’

‘What’s the problem?’ asked Matt.

‘It’s my husband. He’s a diabetic.’

She showed us into the front room and there was a smart middle aged man sitting on the sofa. He was twitchy and looked up at us.

‘I think he needs some sugar,’ said the woman.

Matt nodded. ‘Have you tried a strip?’ he asked.

There were only a few glucometers around in those days, though patients did have impregnated strips which turned colour when blood was applied. You then matched the colour against a card to determine whether the patient was hypoglycaemic.  Nowadays, all crews have glucometers and are able to either inject with Glucagon or are able to put up glucose drips, but then…..nothing!

She shook her head. ‘No, I tried but he wouldn’t let me.’

‘Ok, let us try,’ said Matt. ‘Have you got the stuff there?’

She nodded and then handed over the kit she had. He turned his attention to the patient. ‘Hello sir, we’re here to help. We just want a little pinprick of blood.’ He went to grab hold of his hand but the patient pulled it away.

‘Fuck off!’ he yelled, flailing an arm at Matt.

Matt ducked and tried to grab the arm as it whizzed past his ear. ‘Grab hold of the other arm Clive,’ he said to me.

I did as was told and grabbed hold, pinning his arm to his side. The patient turned to look at me. ‘Fuck off!’ he yelled into my face, and then the arm that Matt was trying to catch came flying towards me. I tried to duck and move out of the way, but I was too slow. The fist came round and smacked me in the side of the head.

I saw stars for a few seconds. ‘What the ….?’ I went to yell, as a kind of reflex; then I remembered where I was and what I was meant to be doing.

‘Now, now. There’s no need for that sir,’ says Matt calmly. ‘You alright Clive?’ he added to me, a little smirk playing at his lips.

‘Yes,’ I said, my ear still ringing from the punch.

‘I think we are just going to have to get some sugar in him,’ he turned to the woman. ‘Have you got some jam, not diabetic jam though?’

‘Yes,’ says the woman and she rushed off to the kitchen while Matt and I struggled to keep hold of the patient. He was strong and extremely aggressive. The language became courser and he continued to try to hit and kick out, when that failed he started to spit at us. It wasn’t the patients fault, hypoglycaemia can do that to people, but it felt like we were on the wrong end of a serious assault. The patient fought harder and I received another punch, but this time in the chest. Somehow Matt had avoided being hit, but I had copped it twice so far!

The woman returned with a jar and a spoon and handed it over.

Matt held dug the spoon into the jam and then held it up to the patient’s lips. ‘Eat this,’ he ordered.

To my surprise the man did as was asked and opened his mouth. The man swallowed and Matt dug the spoon into the jam once more. As he ate the patient began to relax, the sugar beginning to get into his system.

Eventually we let go of him and his wife produced a Mars bar. The patient ate it greedily, and as he did so his demeanour changed dramatically. Jam was everywhere; on the patient, on us, on the sofa, on the carpet. I even saw some on the curtain. I took a quick glance at my watch; we had been inside the house for over half an hour.

‘Did I go hypo?’ he asked apologetically.

Matt nodded. ‘Yes sir, but you’re alright now.’

‘Did I hurt anyone?’

‘Not at all,’ replied Matt, giving me a quick look. ‘Not at all.’

The patient looked at me. ‘Are you sure?’

‘No problem,’ I said, knowing I was going to have a few bruises come out later. ‘You were no trouble at all.’

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