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Catastrophic car accidents, fatal house fires, and psychiatric patients threatening to kill children are some of the most confronting situations RAC Rescue critical care paramedic Craig Telford has had to deal with, but they are not necessarily the cases that stick in his mind.
The Jandakot-based ambo – one of Western Australia’s nine elite paramedics – says it is not the horrific cases that stay with him, but the ones that give him the chance to connect with patients on a human level.
One such case was his involvement in assisting a 95-year-old World War Two veteran who had broken his hip and taken 14 hours to crawl to the telephone to call for help.
“He was a World War Two veteran and the first thing he did was apologise for wasting our time,” Telford said.
“It sounds strange, but they are the kinds of jobs that stick with me.
“There’s this chap that has lived through two world wars and he’s got a broken hip, he’s spent 14 hours trying to crawl to a phone and the first thing he did was apologise to us.”
The 19-year veteran joins with a rotating group of helicopter pilots and air crew men to form three-man teams which head out to remote parts of WA in the rescue helicopter about 600 times a year to provide medical assistance.
“We are the ones that go down the winch, into the water, down onto ships; we go into the bush and extricate patients from there,” Telford said.
“Often when we winch in, the sun is going down, it’s windy, it’s raining – in rescue components it’s generally the most atrocious weather conditions.
“We’ve got fuel issues, we’ve got weight issues; sometimes just to winch into a forest you could be doing a 200 foot winch and the wind is howling, it’s raining and it can be very, very difficult.”
Telford said he has “seen it all” in his near-two decades in the industry, but he continues to be challenged by some of the ways he and his teams can turn a potentially horrific situation into something positive.
“I have had psych patients that have had knives to babies’ throats, saying they’re going to kill the baby and we've been able to talk them out of it and save the baby and get the person to the next level of care,” Telford said.
“We all go to resuscitations where we defibrillate someone and you get a pulse back and that’s great or you get somewhere and you can stem a major arterial bleed and keep them alive.”
Telford said his years of experience have allowed him to separate his home life from the traumatic incidents with which he is sometimes confronted, something that not all paramedics and volunteers are able to do.
“The job is about building up exposure. The more times you have exposure to something, you tend to absorb it a bit better or deflect it a bit better,” he said.
“There are times where you can only do a certain amount or the patient is clearly deceased and you end up having to manage the environment and the people.
“These certainly are the difficult aspects of the job. It’s not just the patient – we have to manage the people around who have been exposed to some quite horrendous sights which we see a lot of, but they might have never seen.”
Telford was quick to point out that people’s perception of ambulance work – the tendency to consider those kinds of traumatic incidents as typical of a day’s work – is inaccurate.
“I think people don’t see that side of the ambulance service,” he said.
“They see the traffic accidents and they see the blood and guts but they don’t see ambos that are dealing with violent kids who are affected by substances, they don’t see ambos that have been threatened with syringes, or knives or weapons and they don’t see that humanitarian side.”
Telford said the thing that struck him in particular about his colleagues and volunteers was an overwhelming desire to help others.
“You don’t join the emergency services to be a millionaire,” he said.
“It is the best workforce I have ever been associated with – everyone is there to help.
“The people doing this are doing it because they legitimately have an interest in helping the community.
“The volunteers take that to a whole new level where they are doing it for absolutely nothing.
“I have grabbed people from bridges and off the tops of buildings – you know they probably weren’t going to do too well out of it.
“It’s nice to feel like you might make a bit of a difference.”