Paramedics balance action with reflection

2012-01-03 00:00

SOME partied the night away on New Year’s eve, others quietly waited for the magic hour to pass, and a paramedic cruised the streets, waiting to serve.

Derrick Banks, ER24 spokesperson and paramedic, was on duty over the New Year weekend and chatted to The Witness: “I guess it was pretty quiet in comparison to last year. I suppose in some people’s books that is good.

“ Fewer incidents means that people were behaving. But for us who wait around it means waiting and more waiting.”

Banks is fairly typical of his breed — the adrenaline junkie type who thrives on the crackle of a call-out.

He even looks the part of a Hollywood paramedic, tall, good-looking and tanned with crewcut hairstyle. The appeal must be part of the job description, or have something to do with the uniform or the car: his BMW X5 with its flashing lights and imposing paintwork cuts a mean figure in the swathe of traffic heading to Johannesburg on the N3.

Banks was interrupted quite often by the funky ringtone of his cellphone. No classic melody for this man; it’s definitely a beat to get the blood pumping.

A small collision on the N3 — only two cars involved. He ran his hands through his thinning hair and gave the standard quote to a radio reporter about the high volume of traffic: “We are always on high alert over public holidays because people get careless. They want to reach their destinations and they speed. We just arrive and see the consequences.”

Banks said this New Year’s Eve might have been quiet because many people decided to stay at home. He added: “KwaZulu-Natal has a reputation for zero tolerance and people know they can’t drink and drive and take a chance.

“The cops are fairly good about their presence and it’s a good deterrent. We find that before midnight things are slow and then in the early hours things pick up, the usual incidents involve accidents with fireworks and people start fighting when they have drunk too much. When you are a paramedic for years you get to see everything; best friends become enemies after one bottle too many. It’s not our job to judge, just to clean up and wonder about the human condition.”

Banks conceded that paramedics develop a dark sense of humour over time and tended to talk shop when they got together after work.

“We are always analysing our cases and some people might think we are cold, but we have to be able to get to a scene and prioritise. You can’t do that if you are emotional; it’s about seeing who we can help and how quickly.”

The cellphone rang again, his face changed — “Ooh, that’s a sticky one. I’ll leave the cops to do that one. Not a nice one. Eish!” I overheard him say two policemen had run over and killed two cyclists in Johannesburg.

Banks said his worst week this year was when in the space of seven days he had to deal with five taxi accidents. “It was like a bad horror movie. We had one bad accident in Durban where a truck landed on top of a taxi on the M2 and we had to deal with that, then the next day we had another taxi that rolled.

“Unbelievably two days later a taxi and a truck collided, and then the worst one was the taxi accident on the Greytown road when 15 people were killed.

“When it comes to taxi accidents you never know what you are going to get. Sometimes the injured have minor injuries and other times it is just horrific.”

Banks said the unpredictability of the job was what kept most of the paramedics hooked. “It’s never a boring day in the office.”

In 2011 their most unusual call-out was in Sweetwaters when they were summmoned to help a woman who had been attacked by a goat.

Sometimes in sticky situations they have to call in a police escort, and while reaching and treating the patient is their first priority, protecting themselves has become a new concern.

He got a beep — another call-out. A bakkie had rolled, multiple victims. He strode to his flashy car and prepared to leave, not unlike a superhero.

Must be the uniform.

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