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Unwritten Rules

Posted May 09 2013 3:08pm
The first clue was the fact that the apartment was on the fourth floor. It's the internationally recognised, first unwritten rule of ambulance work that the higher up the patient is in the building, particularly if there's no lift, the more likely they are to need carrying down. A voice hollers out of the window, through the security bars that seem totally unnecessary on a window so high up. 

"Bring some bandages, you're going to need them!" 

We're already carrying a supply, along with oxygen, a defibrillator, a carry chair and all other manner of equipment that we may or may not need. Unwritten rule number two is that whatever piece of kit you leave behind, is exactly the one you're going to need for the patient, so often we carry too much, rather than be stuck with too little. 
The trail of blood that greets us at the front door leads us to Berhanu, an ancient looking Ethiopian man, surrounded by concerned family. Three people start talking to us at once. 
"It happened yesterday too!" 
"He's on all these tablets!" 
"We tried to stop it, but it keeps filling up again!" 
Eventually, we calm the scene and reach Berhanu, finding him chirpy and unconcerned, unwritten rule number three proving yet again that often the family panics a great deal more than the patient. He was sporting a self-made blood collecting device around his foot, proudly showing off the handiwork that we were just about to dismantle. First, we remove the plastic bag, within which must have been a couple of hundred millilitres of blood. Next, we gently removed the DIY bandage that was held in place by sellotape and electrical tape, and that was made up of blood-soaked tissues, cotton wool and torn up pieces of newspaper. Finally we could see the ruptured vein just above the ankle. It was pouring out his blood as though someone had left a tap running. The tourniquet that he'd fashioned out of several elastic bands was doing nothing other than leave nasty marks further up his leg.
Within seconds, we applied a new bandage, lots of pressure and raised his leg, all in an attempt to stem the flow. It took some time, but eventually it slowed to just a trickle and then all but stopped, meaning it was stable enough for us to move Berhanu to hospital. 
"I'll walk!" he says, watching me open the carry chair. 
"I think it's better if you don't. We don't want that to start bleeding again." 
"I have walked every day of my life for the last eighty-five years, and up and down those flights of stairs for the last ten. You're not carrying me!" 
We pleaded with him. His family suggested, begged, shouted, instructed and cried at him. Nothing would convince Berhanu to sit in the carry chair. As a final attempt, my crew mate told him that the rules said that anyone who was bleeding, even a little, had to be carried. 
"Where does it say that?" 
"In my rulebook!" 
"Show me." 
"I don't have it with me. But believe me, it's there." 
"I don't believe you, and I won't be carried. Rules or no rules." 
He stands up, refusing all offers of assistance and takes a step towards the front door. All of a sudden, a trickle of blood appears below the bandage and within seconds it's dripping onto the floor at an ever-increasing rate. Defeated, he sits down again, allowing us to start the process all over; redress the wound, raise the leg and wait until the pressure and some gravity do the job again. 
When we're ready, Berhanu looks up at us and motions towards to the carry chair. 
"Good choice, we don't want to go through that again." 
"It's not really in the rulebook, is it, carrying bleeding people?" 
"Well, not specifically, no." 
"Unwritten rules, I guess. I suppose you have to have them too." 
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