The Am­bu­lance crew

TV Times - - Front Page - Vicki Power

Lon­don para­medic Shani Smith tells us about her job and new BBC1 doc­u­men­tary series Am­bu­lance

Shani Smith has de­liv­ered 18 ba­bies, stopped sev­eral peo­ple from killing them­selves and saved nu­mer­ous stab­bing vic­tims from bleed­ing to death.

For the past 17 years she has prac­tised hero­ics ev­ery day in her work as a para­medic with the Lon­don Am­bu­lance Ser­vice.

‘No two days are the same,’ con­firms Shani, 39, who’s based at Cam­den in north Lon­don. ‘I can only say that I ab­so­lutely love my job. Be­com­ing a para­medic is one of the best de­ci­sions I ever made.’

Shani is fea­tured in Am­bu­lance, a three-part BBC1 doc­u­men­tary series

start­ing this week. It fol­lows Lon­don’s over­stretched am­bu­lance ser­vice, which is at the front­line of health care for the cap­i­tal’s more than eight mil­lion in­hab­i­tants.

It’s clear that the ser­vice – which han­dles 5,000 999 calls a day, or

1.5 mil­lion a year – has its hands full. Bud­get cuts to el­derly and men­tal health pa­tient care have left those groups more vul­ner­a­ble to crises.

A typ­i­cal 12-hour shift can also in­volve vi­o­lent crime like stab­bings, which re­quire more than just rush­ing in to help vic­tims.

‘The first thing we have to do is check for dan­ger – is it safe for us to be there and are po­lice there al­ready?’ ex­plains Shani. ‘That’s of great im­por­tance, be­cause we’re no good to a pa­tient if we’re harmed our­selves. Then we check for the vic­tim’s ABCS – air­way, breath­ing and cir­cu­la­tion – and start treat­ing them.

‘While all this is go­ing on you need to de­cide if you need the he­li­copter to come or an ad­vanced para­medic, so you go into auto pi­lot mode. No mat­ter how bad their in­jury, you end your emo­tions to an ex­tent in or­der to do your job prop­erly and pro­fes­sion­ally.’

Some­times, she says, her own emo­tions do come into play. Dur­ing film­ing, the paramedics were called ur­gently to help a woman hav­ing a mis­car­riage.

‘I’ve been through three mis­car­riages my­self,’ re­veals Shani, who lives with her hus­band, Gary, also a para­medic, in north Lon­don. ‘It leaves you with a hor­ri­ble empti­ness, like you’re griev­ing over some­thing you’ve never had. It’s a ter­ri­ble feel­ing, but it makes me bet­ter at my job. I can build up a bet­ter rap­port with my pa­tients, who are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing all th­ese things I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced. It gives them re­as­sur­ance dur­ing such an un­pleas­ant ex­pe­ri­ence.’

There is a strange twist to the mis­car­riage case Shani at­tends to, but we won’t give it away here.

on a hap­pier note, Shani has also helped bring

18 ba­bies into the world.

‘I’ve de­liv­ered so many ba­bies, it’s like sec­ond na­ture. It’s such a lovely ex­pe­ri­ence to go through that with some­one you’ve only just met – it brings tears to my eyes.’

Other cases that res­onate with her in­volve the se­ri­ously ill.

‘If I go to some­one with ter­mi­nal can­cer and make them more com­fort­able in their last days, that stays with me. I re­late it to my pa­ter­nal grand­par­ents, who died within two weeks of each other when I was 16. They were the rea­son I be­came a para­medic.’

De­spite the life-and-death na­ture of the job, Shani says it’s not stress­ful, just very busy. If the day does leave her feel­ing a bit low, she dis­cusses things with Gary.

‘We kind of off­load on each other, be­cause he’s been through sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tions. Some­times he and I do over­time shifts to­gether. I joke that it’s like our date night!’

As hard as it must be to deal with Lon­don­ers in cri­sis, Shani in­sists it’s the best job in the world.

‘Peo­ple of­ten ask me, “Do you wish you were paid more?”

‘The hon­est an­swer is no. We joined this job not to earn money but to help oth­ers. I get sat­is­fac­tion from my job that a lot of peo­ple won’t ever get. It’s so lovely to be able to come home and say, “I saved some­one’s life to­day”.’

New doc­u­men­tary Am­bu­lance tues­day / bbc1 / 9.00Pm

It’s lovely to be

able to say, ‘I saved some­one’s

life to­day’ Car­ing Shani gets job sat­is­fac­tion that money can’t buy

am­bu­lance is pre­viewed on pages 58-59

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