ER24 paramedic Anthony Lledo. Picture: ANA.

Johannesburg - The phone kept ringing but eventually a curt voice answered: “Could you please call me later, I'm rather busy at the moment,” before a quick goodbye. That was the end of the call. Indeed, ER24 advanced paramedic Anthony Lledo, 23, was “rather busy”. In fact he and several other paramedics were battling the clock, fighting to save the lives of a number of critically injured passengers after their bakkie overturned and rolled as it tried to avoid crashing into the back of a minibus.

Despite Lledo's professional calmness and the expert medical assistance given to the badly wounded passengers in the accident near Muldersdrift, Gauteng, four lost their lives, while others were subsequently rushed to hospital, after being stabilised, with critical injuries. And it was only early Saturday morning, and the beginning of a 12-hour shift for Lledo and his colleagues.

“I had to rush to that accident from my first call which was accompanying a lady critically ill with cancer to hospital,” Lledo told African News Agency (ANA) as we spent a Saturday accompanying several emergency crews from Sandton and Fourways in Gauteng.

Lledo, who has an honours degree in emergency medical care from the University of Johannesburg, is called out to accidents where the injuries are critical because his skills bypass those of the ordinary paramedics in ambulances. He responds to accidents in a response motor vehicle - equipped with state-of-the-art medical equipment - worth over R1 million. “The car is more specialised than the ambulance as we can set up a mobile Intensive Care Unit (ICU) on the scene of an accident,” says Lledo. “We can administer medications, neonatal and adult ventilators as well as intra-osseous or bone drips. We also have a fluid warmer to warm up the intravenous fluids,” Lledo told us.

Physically demanding, stressful job

As we wind our way to an outdoor concert for Johannesburg Day, near Lanseria, Lledo explains why he chose being a paramedic as a profession. “I started volunteering with emergency services when I was 15 after I rode along with a local fire brigade to see what these services involved. I was hooked from there on.

“I love my job but it is very physically demanding and stressful - very hands on. The shifts are long and our mistakes can be deadly - we're talking about saving lives here. It can be hard dealing with critical injuries on a freezing cold morning at 4am having almost completed a 12-hour shift when there are families which may have to face devastating news,” says Lledo.

As we drive, Lledo is monitoring two phones, SMS texts, voice messages and a radio with dispatch updates - while keeping an eye on the chaotic traffic. At the Johannesburg Day concert a young woman is overcome by heat exhaustion. She is disoriented, confused and on the verge of losing consciousness. Several paramedics step in, monitoring her vital signs, setting up a drip, and a Satspro finger clamp which monitors oxygen levels.

The young woman is transported to hospital in an ambulance as the paramedics try to wake her up. On arrival at the hospital, after the woman has been put into the emergency ward, a pile of paper work has to be filled in by paramedics Mike Blunn and Casper Visser from Fourways.

A joke or two to take the pain away

Subsequently, Blunn and Visser are hungry and begin discussing late lunch plans. However, an emergency call comes through interrupting their discussion. They race towards the ambulance which speeds towards a local bike park where a young woman has reportedly broken her ankle. Three emergency vehicles eventually arrive on the scene. The young woman from Soweto is conscious but in a lot of pain. She is given a drip, nitrous-oxide to relieve the pain and her ankle is splinted and bandaged. The paramedics quiz her about her health, medications and pain levels in a kind and caring manner while cracking jokes to make her smile and take her mind off the pain.

Eventually they return to headquarters, where the hungry and tired paramedics take a much needed break for a cup of coffee and some lunch. Lledo shows a light-hearted side as he flings an arm around colleague, Tlhogi Ramekwa, cracking a risque joke as they sit back on a couch. Ramekwa tells us that his colleagues, and the camaraderie they share, are what makes his job worthwhile. “We have debriefing sessions after traumatic accidents where we discuss what we did right and what we could improve on next time,” says Ramekwa. Lledo adds that they have a trauma counsellor available 24 hours to help paramedics work through any traumatic incident.

How do they de-stress?

Ramekwa and Lledi further explain they also de-stress by going to the gym, spending time with family and hanging out with friends. But just as the coffee is prepared and packets of chips are being munched, another emergency call comes through of a serious accident that has just taken place involving two vehicles in Randburg. The crews scatter towards ambulances and the emergency vehicle, chips and coffee flung to the side.

Lledo's vehicle, with lights flashing and siren screaming, rushes towards the accident. He weaves in and out of traffic, through red traffic lights after pausing briefly and then continues at breakneck speed, with inches spared as he swerves around vehicles. One slight miscalculation could end badly.

On arrival, several injured passengers, one moaning in agony as blood pours from a head wound, again receive compassionate and professional care, before being stabilised and rushed to hospital. As the smashed up vehicles are towed away and the injured taken care of, the crew heads back to the office. Lledo's gruelling shift is nearly over. But his day is far from over. “I'll be celebrating a wedding tonight,” Lledo tells us as a weary smile breaks out over his face.

African News Agency (ANA)