Blood, Sweat & TeaPosted: June 22, 2012
Sirens is, undoubtedly, one of my most favourite shows of all time. As I explained in my review, part of what drew me to it was the utter realism of it all: I’ve never been a big fan of shows like ER or Grey’s Anatomy or House or whatever. These shows all seem to deal with diseases or conditions or people that are, in some way, supernatural. Working in a healthcare setting, you get to realise that the vast majority of what you deal with is, obviously, the ordinary. You occasionally get surprised but typically it’s the same thing; where I work, 95% of the time the individual we’re dealing with is either strung out on drugs or incredibly intoxicated. While there is the occasional variation, day-in and day-out, it’s the same thing. Occasionally you get to make a real difference — you save someone’s life, for example (but giving a drunk an IV and pumping him full of fluids and sending him off in the morning just for him to come back the next day just as drunk doesn’t count, I think) — but typically it remains normal. The conflict is one that is never ending and is ultimately more about the healthcare professional (the nurse, the doctor, the paramedic, etc) than it is about the patient.
After watching Sirens, I had to pick up Blood, Sweat & Tea, since I missed out on the original blog by “Tom Reynolds“, and of course, I had to have more. The book is described as having “real-life adventures in an inner-city ambulance,” and it doesn’t let down. The “adventures” typically vary between the mundane and the exceptional: Reynolds seems to spend as much time rescuing drunks from themselves as he does saving actual lives (though I’d imagine the real-life statistics tend to favor the former over the latter). He offers insight into the problems of the London Ambulance Service itself, such as the 8-minute rule (a first responder needs to be at the scene within 8-minutes, a seemingly arbitrary rule, which resulted in the “fast response unit” [FRU], an “ambulance car”), or the lack of proper vehicles resulting in teams being grounded, or drunks calling complaining of “chest pains” (thus warranting a faster response) when they really want a ride to the hospital, or even an ambulance station that lacks ample parking, forcing drivers to park on the streets (and get slapped with tickets!). He complains occasionally about being bored when no calls come in, and I think that is when the book is the most interesting.
Reynolds frequently complains about “slow nights”, and not having any real calls, but also touches on the very weird problem with that: no calls essentially means that no one is in distress. Paramedics, nurses, doctors, and so on, all require someone to be injured or hurt or dying in order to have something to do. Most human beings would be thrilled at the prospect of nobody dying, but for anyone in healthcare it really means that you have to sit around on your ass watching TV or checking Facebook or blogging or whatever. It is something I’ve noticed myself working in healthcare: I work in a hospital with several psychiatric wards, so a quiet night means that everyone is stable and that no one is acting out. Everyone is sleeping, everyone is calm, everything is right. Individuals who thrive on action and danger and so on (which includes myself, Reynolds, and similar professions [and certainly not most nurses]) end up being incredibly bored when there is nothing going on.
Reynolds also has to frequently deal with “ethnic problems”; they’re typically subtle, such as having to diagnose a person who doesn’t speak English, but sometimes they’re very overt, such as early on when Reynolds assets that it “is not racist” to assert it is difficult to tell if a black person is breathing or not due to their complexion. Reynolds at times seems pretty defensive about racism and tries to frequently head it off before it can become a problem, frequently asserting throughout the book that he hates all people equally. Stereotyping is another issue that folks in healthcare have to deal with a lot; most of the people I deal with at work are homeless and have a variety of addictions and health problems, yet we have to carefully refrain from stereotyping them or treating them poorly because they’re homeless. No matter how dirty someone is or how bad their feet smell, and no matter how drunk they are or how aggressive they are, they’re always “sir” or “ma’am”. We might call someone “some fucking junkie” behind their backs (mostly because dealing with this thing day in and day out can make you incredibly cynical and jaded), but we have to treat them with the utmost respect. A huge portion of our “regulars” are individuals of Aboriginal status, and while we wouldn’t dream of calling them any racial epithet, we always have to be conscious of our biases. I think Reynolds finds himself in the same position, and between individuals working in healthcare it is understood, but to outsiders it can come off as racist or prejudiced; hence, I think, the spirited defense. He doesn’t come off as apologetic (especially when he slams religion), which is nice to see.
The book does lack any sort of narrative; it does sort of cover Reynolds’s time from “newbie” ambulance-man to member of the FRU, which is interesting to see. There are hints here and there about Reynolds’s personal life, and at times you can see where they drew from him to come up with the character of Stuart in Sirens itself. As I mentioned, the entries vary from the exciting to the mundane, but each retains a sort of “now-ness”. Many of the entries were apparently written after long shifts and long nights, and you can occasionally see sleepiness or frustration seep into the entries: it is pretty cool to see. The posts, while clearly “politically” written (in that he didn’t want to lose his job writing about it), often convey his frustration at how the LAS works, about London’s alcohol problem, and about language issues. He touches on elders being abused in care homes and about how snobby midwives can be, and about the occasional contempt that ambulance drivers face on a day-to-day basis. Reynolds ultimately comes off as an ordinary guy doing what is to him at least, a fairly ordinary job. He conveys his healthcare knowledge with ease and it often comes off as off-handed. He spends some time explaining types of breathing or heartrates, for example, but it rarely comes off as a lecture or as pedantic — it just reads like he is explaining something that is fairly ordinary to him.
Blood, Sweat & Tea is a great read, especially if you missed out on his original blog. It’ll give you a new respect for paramedics (especially if you lacked it before) and will give you some insight on the inner workings of an inner-city ambulance service. It’s not Grey’s Anatomy or House, and I’m pretty grateful for that. It reads a lot like a journal (Reynolds has gone back and either followed-up or expanded on most entries), and at times seems pretty personal. All in all, it’s a fantastic book, and I definitely recommend you give it a shot, especially if you’re one of those jerks who doesn’t pull over when you see an ambulance coming.