GUEST BLOG: Why You Should NEVER Ask A Member Of The Emergency Services ‘What’s The WORST Thing You’ve Seen?’

Recently, I was doing a frontline support shift, and we were given a job to transfer a patient from a mental health hospital to the local A&E. This was one of those jobs where you wonder why you were there: The hospital had tended to the cut, the patient just wanted to go back to bed, we had nothing to offer at our skill level and A&E weren’t sure why the patient had been taken there.

After a while of the paperwork being prepared, copied, and everything being set for us to go we head off.

I’m driving along, keeping half an ear on what’s going on in the back.

My crewmate is chatting away to the escort provided by the hospital and the patient. The usual questions come up: “How long have you been doing this for?”, “How long are you on until?”, “Has it been busy tonight?”, “How much of the night shift is dealing with drunks?” and my crewmate is happily answering these questions.

Then, I hear that question from the escort. The one that I’ve not been asked for a while, but people do still ask from time to time: “What’s the worst thing you’ve had to deal with?”

I have done some time on PTS, some time on frontline, and have gone back to my old trade outside of the healthcare sector, doing the odd bit of NHS support work and event cover.

My crewmate hasn’t had that full-time experience, so after a moment of fumbling comes up with vague stories from some motorsport events with no real details.

I was glad to have been driving, so I didn’t have to answer that question. What answer would it be?
Doing an end-of-life job with a gentleman, then having a call to his wife months later and seeing the shell of her, with all of the spirit that she had the first time I saw her gone?

That was a very emotionally moving job, and I needed to have a breather after that. That was a bad job, but not a good story.

Doing a series of shifts with a crewmate who is constantly belittling and bullying? That was a very bad month, but wasn’t “the worst job”

They were probably after the guts and glory.

The job where it took BTP days to find all the pieces. The job that I will talk about to friends and colleagues but won’t tell people for their own enjoyment and gratification?

That’s probably the one they would want to hear about. That’s the kind of thing most people asking about want to hear. They aren’t interested in the emotional jobs, they aren’t interested in how you were affected. They want tales of blood and guts and glory.

Had I been in the back, what would I have said?

Probably something along the lines of “Do you actually want to know, or are you just after a cheap thrill from the gory stories? You want me to recount one of the most traumatic things I’ve seen for your enjoyment? You work in a mental health hospital, you of all people should know better than that.”

Even though I wasn’t involved in the conversation, I was starting to form images in my mind of those jobs.

The old lady who’s spark had extinguished with the passing of her husband, the scene of death that was measured in fractions of miles, the relatively small head injury that made someone’s kitchen look like a violent crime scene.

Because someone had a morbid sense of curiosity. Someone who worked with mental health.

Once we had got to A&E and transferred the patient, I was thinking about having a quick word with the escort about that.

Ask what the worse thing he’s encountered was and if he’d want to tell those tales.

Instead, I wished him a good evening and went on my way to put the shift paperwork in, park the ambulance for the night, and go home.

What purpose would the confrontation serve? A moment of gratification at the expense of someone else’s mood? The very thing that I was wound up about?

No. It was better to leave it be and walk out of there the better man…

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One comment

  • I was taken to A & E recently (low blood pressure) The oppo with me was very chatty this that and the other said I have every respect and admiration for the work you guys do – I was surprised he asked about me and what I did as I had said I had a few years as a life guard (2nd job become full time) and lamented about resuscitating which he said unfortunately always failed. I had done 4 3 of which were not successful. He wanted some details 1 14 year old fished out of swimming pool deep end 11′ 6″ – inquest didn’t drown but open – possibly SDS. Teacher failed= breathes ended up in her tummy and contents ended up in my mouth – massive heart attack. Chap (elderly) collapsed in street – A doctor stopped declared him deceased then went off – paramedics couldn’t believe it. Lastly my wife, doctor just arrived went to sound her back as she said probably muscle spasm the only other thing sub arach……wife stopped breathing + no pulse = doc did compressions I did breaths – got her back – she died 11 days later gutted. Just thought I’d share that as it’s not always a one way street. If you are affected I sympathise – its easy to be negative about “customers” and I know there is a bit of lip biting – I would say seek some professional support – I don’t wish for you to end up broken. Thank you for your service sir its hard trust me I know.

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