Cape Town - Violent crime fills the Western Cape’s ambulances with gunshot wounds, stabbings and assaults. But often it’s the medics themselves who are in the firing line.
They know they risk their own lives to save others. Sometimes those they save are the very same individuals who put them at risk.
Medics Rushaana Gallow and Grant October have worked together since 2014. Both have been attacked multiple times, and Gallow has been shot in the arm.
The first time they were attacked, they were responding to a call in Tafelsig from one of their “frequent flyers”, an older man with asthma.
As they fetched of oxygen from the ambulance, men in masks struck.
“One guy placed a gun on the seat and scratched through the bags,” Gallow said.
“A few other guys came in the back with knives. They robbed us, they took everything.
“They left when the wife of the patient came out. She knew who they were and gave us their names.”
But when police questioned her, she said she didn’t want to get involved, because the men were gangsters.
“We just feel communities don’t have our backs. At the end of the day, we are going out there to help them,” Gallow said.
“In certain areas, I still get palpitations, especially Tafelsig.”
That night, after the attack, they switched vehicles.
Months later, Gallow was helping a patient who had been shot in his buttocks. She gave him a samoosa and a koeksister because he was hungry, and he said he felt bad that he had robbed an ambulance earlier that year.
He described the exact time and place of the incident and Gallow realised her patient was one of the masked men who attacked them in Tafelsig.
“We transported our own suspect,” she said. “He forgot what we looked like.”
She treated his wounds and took him to hospital.
Tafelsig first earned its reputation as a nightmare spot for Gallow in 2013. She was sitting on the passenger side of an EMS response bakkie when they got caught in the crossfire between two gangs.
“The bullet came through the windscreen,” she said.
“I ducked and it hit me in the arm. If I hadn’t ducked, it would’ve got me in the chest.”
Two days later she was back on the job.
“I enjoy what I do. After each and every incident I come back,” she said.
“We don’t tell our partners and families everything that goes on. It’s not a difficult job; you just need to want to be there.”
There have also been armed robberies on them in Gugulethu and Nyanga this month.
“It definitely does change the way that you carry yourself, the way that you behave in stressful situations.
“I do think I have a low grade of post-traumatic stress disorder because of the attacks. It’s definitely changed me.
“You’d think that being escorted by police would offer some protection, but with criminals hungry for guns, police create even more of a target.
“The suspects want the guns that the SAPS have,” October said.
In one incident, his colleagues were called to a patient in Gugulethu, where they would have to get a SAPS escort. But it was a hoax call to ambush the police.
“They shot at police, and one of the police officers died, and one of the suspects also died. I ended up responding to the call because we all heard our colleague over the radio and raced there,” October said.
“Funnily enough, I had to transport one of those suspects to Groote Schuur Hospital. That’s one of those moments when your ethics have to be really strong.
“It’s like, you did this to one of my colleagues. It could’ve been me, and I’m still helping you out. That was a very emotionally challenging call.”
He called for security guards to be stationed on every ambulance.
“It would solve all these problems; just get a private security company. Simple.
“They have armed guards to transport bread every morning. Bread! And they can’t do it for a government entity.”
Gallow said despite the risk, she wanted to continue to be a medic.
“We get bored at home, so we come back. A lot of people call us adrenalin junkies.”