Night-time Challenge: Another Kind of Patrolling
As the sun sets on another cold Saturday evening in this southern English city, those, in the white dressing gowns, get ready for another ‘night full of surprises’, as they call it.
Not knowing what to expect, the team of three starts unpacking the freshly sterilised material from inside what look like small, blue, portable fridges, sort of the ones used for camping. In a matter of 30 seconds, the air is impregnated in the penetrating odour of iodoform, a mixture of ammonia and rubbin alcohol – that ‘hospital smell’, says the only woman, Dr. Moore as she gathers her hair into a ponytail, ‘that we are so used to’.
Every weekend, at least six patients are inside what looks like an ordinary yellow and green van. But inside, is equipped with the latest medical machinery; and this weekend, especially tonight, “could be interesting” says the 50-year-old Doctor, “as it is the last Saturday before students break for Christmas”.
As the doctor carefully places the items on the white shelf above the stretcher, the sound check begins. One, two and up to three minutes are needed before the continuous irritating high pitched siren fades away and the sound of the last plastic wrapper being opened comes back in. The young driver is now placed on his seat, waiting for the ‘ready to go’ signal from the team of experts behind him, who remain quiet as they finish counting the number of syringes and blood bags they expect to use tonight.
As it hits 7:35 pm, the back doors of the van are closed and the engine is turned on: the patrolling starts.
Outside, Portsmouth’s streets seem quiet, as the truck makes its way through the first dark road, only lighted by a few streetlights here and there. Inside, the ‘rescue team’ have started their “own little ritual” as Dr. Moore describes it; the humming along of the greatest songs of the 80s “whilst we wait for the first call”.
28-year-old driver Louis explains how usually, the first incident of the night occurs in between 9 and 10pm, when young people, leave their houses to go out. Last year, NHS staff dealt with 71, 868 patients who had had too much to drink- six percent of the total workload.
The outside vision vanishes as temperature rises in the interior of the van, and the rear windows start to cover themselves in fog. It is not until 9:12pm however, that George Michael’s 80s hit: Faith, is interrupted by a constant beep noise, the sound of the first emergency call.
“Car-acc-i-dent” A halting old woman’s voice coming out of a radio station next to Louis.
Both doctors look at each other, and the siren starts to sound immediately. What once seemed like a bunch of friends singing along to old tunes in a car, has now turned into a race to have everything ready for the patient, under the blue and yellow lights of the siren. Right in front, cars, motorcycles and buses clear the road as Louis increases the speed; at the back, now covered in white masks and gloves, the doctors quickly discuss what they think would be the best thing to do depending on the injury.
9:20pm: the disinfectant smell is blown away by the cold winter breeze as the doors open and the ‘rescue team’ jump outside. To the right, a silver Suzuki SX4 completely smashed on its right side; to the left, two policemen kneeling next to an unconscious 22 year old. The young man, dressed in a white shirt and smart jeans, is now lying under the glow of the streetlights, head resting on one of the policeman’s coat, and oxygen mask covering his face, as the smell of smoke can still be sensed.
As the patient is taken into the ‘moving hospital’, strangers stop and stare for a few minutes, before continuing with their lives.
Doors close, lights turn on. Songs from the 80s are no longer on and the only music heard is the sound of the doctors moving around the stretcher, trying to wake up the young man with claps and shakes.
Doors open again, and with the oxygen mask still on, the patient is carried away by five hospital workers. Silence.
“That was completely the opposite that I expected for tonight”, says Dr. Moore. “Sometimes you just don’t know what to expect”.
And the sound of the siren reappears, as the next ambulance leaves the hospital garage in to a “night full of surprises”.