Burnout:Rescue 911

2017-01-04 12:45
Smangaliso Mnguni, who accompanied JC Zondi on the journey with ER24 paramedics, in a scene from their production Burnout, which was held at the 2016 Musho! Festival. The scene depicts the rescue of a young girl.

Smangaliso Mnguni, who accompanied JC Zondi on the journey with ER24 paramedics, in a scene from their production Burnout, which was held at the 2016 Musho! Festival. The scene depicts the rescue of a young girl. (Supplied)

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The following narrative(s) are based on true events. Some names have been changed for privacy purposes. I had finally been given the opportunity to take a production (play) to the National Arts Festival via UKZN PMB. I wanted to write an untold story, a story that relates to everyone. Part of this story was performed at the 2016 Musho! Festival, where my team and I won best upcoming work. The narratives in this writing are the ones that never made it to the production.

I wanted to write a story about paramedics, the superheroes with no capes or powers, the individuals who grapple with the grim reaper himself. I reached out to ER24 and they were willing to help, so it was game on.

My performer (Musa) and I were to start. We had to wake up before 5 am because at 6 am the ambulance was to hit the road. Our first danger was walking on Prince Alfred Street in the morning — not a very safe road to walk early in the morning. We survived that danger. With our white shirts and jeans, we arrived at the ER24 station office formerly located at Prince Alfred. We were greeted with the warmest welcome. Everyone was already there. You could not tell that these guys saw traumatic events every day. We shook hands and introductions were made. As we spoke to these guys already we could see different personalities spouting: the funny guy (Mike), the quiet one (Lungi), the dramatic one (Lucas) and one we only could title as the hot brunette (Amber). For logistics we had to sign some documents and we hit the road. Our main correspondent would be Mike. He was a bald, ageing white male, slightly hunched and was a smoker. Little did we know that spending our days with him would be a joyous time filled with laughter, even in cases of trauma. And that is exactly the advice he gave: “A lot of us here deal with trauma differently, but the most common way is through laughter.”

As we waited for an emergency call, Mike filled our minds with imagination about the true events that happen in his job. He was a family man with a daughter, had been at ER24 for almost four years but a paramedic longer. Our first day was not relaxed because there were accidents left and right. But by the time we sighed, 12 hours had passed and we waited for the next day(s).

Day three (late 8.10 pm)

We needed to experience the night time of this job. This time it was me and Smanga. While everyone was busy watching Generations, we were in the back of the ambulance driving towards Northdale Hospital. Behind sat Mike, me, Smanga and two unnamed male patients. One was bloody all over, clothes ripped and head scarred. He had driven his bakkie into a ditch while drunk. His friend wasn’t as harmed, while he was close to the edge of death. Mike was busy filling documents; he had already attached the appropriate equipment to the male. He gave me a job to make sure the man did not fall asleep. “Why?” I asked. “Well if he does he might not wake up again.” I had no idea if this was to scare me but it did.

Now this is what I came here to do, experience this job, but now I feared that a man’s life depended on me. I found out his name — Themba — now I had to dig up his life story. He kept mentioning only one thing, his mother. Of the many things he worried about, it was his mother. He kept saying we must not call her because she’ll worry too much. As I kept asking questions, he wanted to nap, he kept saying: “Awuthi ngilale kancane boss, ngikhathele ukuphendula manje [Can I sleep for a while? I’m tired of answering].

Ima bra wami uzobuye ulale, awungitshele ngo mem [You’ll sleep later; tell me about your girlfriend].”

Every passing second he wanted to sleep, stinking of alcohol. A part of me wished he just slept; the world would be a better place with one fewer drunk on the road, but that’s not the job. We got to the hospital, gave them to the doctors and headed back to the ambulance. We had to assist in cleaning all the dirty things — sheets, used blankets and gloves. And then I saw it. That one moment that these events do take a toll. All the guys who smoked, including Mike, gathered and smoked. Every puff was followed by a sigh of relief. One male (Lungi) sat in the passenger seat listening to East Coast Radio, head laid back. I wanted to do something, too, so I just asked questions and then we were off again.

Day 13 (approx 8.57 pm)

The city never sleeps on a Friday. It had been two weeks now and we already thought we were getting accustomed to this life of paramedics. If only that were true. We were called to another accident at Victoria Road, just by The Hub store. Vehicles had collided, a taxi if I remember correctly. We got there and there was chaos. Everybody was there, police were there, pick-up trucks (vultures) and other emergency rescue services, Netcare 911. Our guys got off, greeted their fellow rivals — yes, although it is the same job, some rivalry exists. We were filled in on the situation. Smanga and I were asked to take some of the injured patients into the ambulance, those who could still walk. As we were in the ambulance, a black male came out of nowhere, followed by some of his friends we assumed. He was shouting for his mom. “Ma-ma. Muphi uMa-ma? Ma!” He was very angry. He ran towards our ambulance causing chaos: “Ma uright? Ubani okwenze nje? Iyiphi lenja elimaze uMa? [Mom are you okay? Who did this to you? Which dog hurt my mom?]” Our friends politely asked him to calm down. It was like pouring petrol on to wild fire. He began shoving and shouting for the perpetrator to reveal himself. He went to some stranger by a car and shuffled with him (the cops are right there dude, I said in my head). In no time, he was face first on the floor. “Calm down Sir.” He fought for a while then he just cried more for his mom, asking if she was alright. His mother responded:

Ngiright mfanami ehlisa umoya [I am okay my boy, calm down].”

Day 18 (approx 9.30 pm)

As a kid I had always thought paramedics were a**holes, who’d just blast sirens whenever they wanted to, but being in this journey with them proved me wrong because literally accidents happened at any time, at any moment. Mike in the smaller car was leading us to our next destination, Pelham/Oribi. The smaller car is used to clear the traffic as I saw. It rushes in the front so people will know what is happening and move out the way. We didn’t know what had occurred yet, but we didn’t expect what we found.

As Amber (the hot brunette) drove the ambulance in the front yard, all we could hear was a mother’s cry. Outside stood who we assumed were neighbours and family. Mike and Amber went inside, stayed a few minutes and then came out. We had to call the morgue. Inside, a baby had died. She was stillborn. The mother had lost the child on the previous Friday. She went to hospital and stayed there until Tuesday. When she came back on Tuesday, she found her baby to be still there in the house. For a mother, I imagine it was a brutal sight to see. She crumbled. The local paramedics had somehow forgotten to take the foetus with them and just left it there. As the baby was carried out, the mother was held back by family as she screamed for her baby.

I felt the pain in her scream having had that experience, reliving losing your baby all over again. Me and Sizwe couldn’t contain ourselves. I was crying. For the rest of the night all I could think about was that mother. We were dropped off at UKZN at 6 am and for the first time, it hit us how deep this job is. When Sizwe and I got into the house, we slept for the whole day without talking to each other until 8 pm. The event had silenced us; we couldn’t speak to each other.

As I write this narrative, I feel how it’s not as emotional as experiencing it. Being there in the moment is harsh; although it’s a hero’s job I felt the loneliness. It is why I can’t help it, every time I see paramedics I have to shake their hands. I thank ER24 for the experience, and all the other emergency services who give all their best to save human lives.

About the author:

JC Zondi is an MA student at UKZN Pietermaritzburg and a lecturer at Creative Arts College. He is an aspiring writer, choreographer and director. His lifetime dream is to meet Jackie Chan one day.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  true stories of kzn 2016

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