Cape EMS worker takes up boxing, running to feel empowered

2016-09-15 09:25
After paramedic Sandra Oliver was confronted by a man wielding a knife dripping with blood during a call-out, she decided to take up boxing and long-distance running to empower herself in dangerous situations (Jenna Etheridge, News24)

After paramedic Sandra Oliver was confronted by a man wielding a knife dripping with blood during a call-out, she decided to take up boxing and long-distance running to empower herself in dangerous situations (Jenna Etheridge, News24)

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WATCH: Danger hinders EMS staff from lifesaving work

2016-09-15 10:30

Hundreds of EMS staff marched in Philippi on Wednesday following attacks on ambulance staff.WATCH

Cape Town – After Sandra Oliver was confronted by a man wielding a knife dripping with blood during a call-out, she decided she had to do something to make herself feel empowered.

Oliver has seen a lot in her nine years as an emergency medical services (EMS) government worker in the Tygerberg area.

But that single call-out to the northern suburbs left her thinking very seriously about her safety.

"I decided for myself, 'Sandra, because your life is so at risk you need to do something about it'," she told News24 after a march in Philippi against attacks on EMS workers on Wednesday.

She took up boxing and long-distance running.

"At least I can run away. I might not be able to fight them but I can run. I have to do something for myself."

Trail of blood

Oliver was called to treat a child in Bellville who had been stabbed by a drug merchant he used to work for.

When she arrived at the scene she saw the boy lying near a staircase.

"I went to do some inspections to see how he got hurt because he wasn't speaking that much," she explained.

She followed the trail of blood and ended up knocking on a door.

Police arrived at the same time and they knocked again when there was no answer.

The door was flung open and a tall man stood there with a knife.


It was "like in the movies, him standing there with blood dripping from the knife," said a petite Oliver.

He refused to put the weapon down and ran towards her.

"I had to run for my life and went to the next open door to hide…This guy was running with his knife, stabbing people."

Eventually police caught him and she was able to treat the child.

Although she went to counselling over the incident, she says the memory of that day will stay with her for the rest of her life.

However, she did take a lesson away from the experience - to wait for the police to arrive.


While Oliver and her colleagues are angered by the regular attacks, they are also scared.

But still, she gets a lot of pleasure from helping others as a paramedic; a job the former Sunday school teacher decided on after one of her learners hanged himself.

"I watched helplessly because I couldn't do anything. I didn't know what to do."

Threats to their safety have brought that helpless feeling back, she said.

"Standing somewhere, being useless is not a nice feeling. And now once again we are being robbed and being hurt and you can still do nothing."

They try to hide their valuables but need cellphones to keep in contact with the control room and watches to check patients' vitals, she said.

Oliver feels empowered at taking up boxing and running but admits her colleagues might not find the same relief from stress in these activities that she has.

Police escorts

"It's not always that you can fight back, and you can't fight fire with fire," she said, shrugging her shoulders.

"I think you have to empower yourself. It is not easy but it is better than standing there."

Nyanga police station commander Brigadier Vuyisile Ncata told marchers on Wednesday that he wanted ambulance crew to do their work without being afraid of "skollies".

He said they would continue to escort ambulances even though it affected their reaction times.

Pat Lekker, an MPL and member of the standing committee on community safety, said it was troubling that people kept on buying cellphones from "thugs".

"Why don't we buy them from the shops?"

Of concern was that paramedics were being attacked, not just robbed, said health MEC Nomafrench Mbombo.

"Today we are saying that the safety of the staff is everybody's business…We came here asking the community to assist us."

Read more on:    cape town  |  health  |  crime

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