:: Article

Waiting On The Rain

By Max Dunbar.

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‘Half the world enjoys itself, the other half cleans up afterwards.’ These words (or something like them) said to me by a Sheffield cab driver, en route from the station to a New Year’s bash – ’02? ’03? – a throwaway aside that I’ve never forgotten. In the city at night for everyone who gets wrecked and pukes up and starts brawling we need police, paramedics, doctors, solicitors, firefighters, bouncers, barstaff, glass collectors. Tom Reynolds is someone who cleans up afterwards.

In More Blood, More Sweat and Another Cup of Tea, his second volume of ambulance memoirs, Reynolds has collected more posts from his hit blog dealing with life as a London Emergency Medical Technician. Whether it’s a 5am matern-a-taxi, a smackhead having an overdose or a major cardiac arrest, no two jobs are ever the same. Reynolds’s fragmented procedural episodes take place against a wider backdrop of an NHS compromised by doctrinaire capitalism and a society licensed for twenty-four hour drinking without a corresponding increase in emergency personnel.

He visits private care homes where unqualified nurses leave elderly patients to rot. He deals with an incompetent GP who lets a patient quietly go through a heart attack in his waiting room. He corrects the numerous yellow journalist ‘exposes’ on the profession. But reading Reynolds’s book, there’s nothing that scandalises you more than the stupidity, arrogance and malevolence of the general public. People break into the ambulance station to steal satnavs and radios. Reynolds is assaulted by a drunk patient – who then files a complaint with the LAS after the EMT tells this patient that he ‘slaps like a bitch’. In an open letter to the thief who stole his medical textbooks from the van while he was inside a house saving someone’s life, Reynolds writes: ‘I wish I knew who you were – I’d fight you to get our kit back. And then, without doubt, another ambulance would treat you.’

This lack of respect towards emergency workers – not just paramedics but police and A + E medical professionals – is put down to the death of deference. I would argue that the freemarket idea of running the NHS like a business has created a mentality that goes: the customer is king, even when he’s wrecked, abusive, isn’t having an emergency and has just pissed all over the inside of your ambulance. Too many people seem to think that just because they pay taxes all public servants are to be treated as disposable slaves.

Yet I’ve made the book seem like a chronicle of hate, which it’s not – there are too many unlikely heroes, too many old ladies apologising for having to use the system into which they’ve paid all their lives. You can understand why Reynolds and people like him do the jobs that they do, despite the low pay, effects on health and relationships and nonsensical target culture. His is one of few professions that actually makes a positive difference to people’s lives (in many cases by saving people’s lives) and that’s why, despite everything, the reader will agree with Reynolds when he says: ‘We occasionally help people. It’s a good job sometimes.’

More Blood, More Sweat and Another Cup of Tea, Tom Reynolds, HarperCollins 2009

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Max Dunbar
was born in London in 1981. He recently finished a full-length novel and his short fiction has appeared in various print and web journals including Open Wide, Straight from the Fridge and Lamport Court. He also writes articles on politics and religion for Butterflies and Wheels. He is Manchester’s regional editor of Succour magazine, a journal of new fiction and poetry. He is reviews editor of 3:AM and blogs here.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Saturday, June 20th, 2009.