During nearly 13 years in frontline of Emergency Ambulance work I have suffered a number of assaults - some physical most verbal. I am not what most people may perceive to be the classic victim of assault, six-foot-tall male, weighing over 15 stone, a former military man. However, this is perhaps an example of the seemingly indiscriminate nature of abuse my colleagues in the NHS and other public services have to endure while protecting the public.
Though more often than not the assaults leave no lasting physical damage the cumulative effect on my psychology presents a continuous challenge. It is a mental battle that has to be overcome again and again in order for me to continue my work in the professional manner expected of me every day I put on my uniform. The expectation to absorb abuse while trying to help a person, then go again maintaining the outwardly unfazed professional demeanour, puts a strain on a person no matter the uniform or badge they wear.
Here are number of incident that occurred within months of each a few years ago. Nobody was arrested or charged and no support was given after these events.
I responded to a gentleman in the early hours of the morning as a lone responder in a rapid response car. The patient was sat at the bottom of his stairs as he shouted through a partially open door for me to enter. The man was clearly in some pain as he explained to me he had long standing toothache, his tone was demanding and bordering on aggressive from the moment I walk in. However, he was in pain so I took this into account as we continued to discuss his condition.
I explained to him there were no dentists in the A&E department and, as such, travelling there would be futile. I offered to help book an emergency dental appointment for him but explained he would have make his own way there as it would be later in the day. At this the man erupted into a torrent of verbal abuse, to which I explained I wasn't prepared to accept it and advised he contacted the emergency dentist himself. I turned and walked towards the front door with the verbal abuse continuing. In addition to this he decided to start taking picture frames of his wall and throw them at me at least two hitting me in my back as I left the house. The frames were not particularly light and contained glass.
One evening I attended an emergency in an upstairs flat where a group of young men had been drinking heavily. They all were very intoxicated and difficult to deal with, however one male had drunk himself into what appeared to be a semi-conscious state, hence the 999 call from his fellow drinkers. The exit from this flat was from a metal staircase external to the building three floors down. As this man had lost the use of his legs through excessive alcohol he had to be carried down these stairs on the ambulance carry chair. I took the bottom of this chair and my crew mate took the top as we precariously carried this man down these narrow stairs with a sizable drop either side. Letting go was not an option, we were committed to the carry. Around midpoint down the stairs the seemly unconscious male opened his eyes and smirked at me as he undid his jeans at the fly and proceeded to urinate on me. As I held him, I was unable to let go or move out the way of his directed stream of urine. I had to take this blatant disrespect from a man I was trying to help. He would go on to be treated with respect and dignity in the hospital where I was left stripping off my urine-soaked uniform.
While driving back to my base ambulance station we came across a parked car with two young males attempting to pull or push a young woman either in or out of the car. It was hard to tell in the struggle. However, it appeared this woman needed immediate assistance. We pulled the ambulance in front of the car and I got out to approach the scene, not really sure what I was getting involved in. Police were already requested via the radio but I felt I needed to at least make my presence known to hopefully deter the men from their assault on this female. To my relief, the two males stopped their struggle with this woman on seeing me, jumping in the car and speeding off. I approached the woman who was stood in the street, identifying myself as a paramedic and offering assistance. At this point the woman suddenly rushed towards me with a tide of verbal abuse followed by punching me in the face before running away from the scene. I was clearly in an identifiable uniform with an ambulance behind me. I stepped in to help her and my reward was to be insulted and punched. At least it gave my supervisor and the attending police officers amusement. However assaults and abuse leave you questioning why you do your job or even should you do your job?
It's the mental side of it that its part of the job that has even crept into our own minds. Almost as if it's a weakness to be offended or hurt by the "little" assaults or the odd bit of abuse. The problem is these erode the standing of our public services to the point that it's ok to attack us in the cause of our duties. We accept behaviour that we would never allow in any other aspects of our lives. We normalise it until someone really gets hurt, but it that chipping away at the intolerance of abuse to our staff that leads to the serious assaults. At the end of the day we are here to help without favour or prejudice, why should that be met with violence and threats. We can never eliminate the risks from the mindless few but an example should be made of them to show that the protection of our emergency services is still held sacred.