The Ambulance crew
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”.’
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