Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Something about Ambulances

I was in a 3-wheeler on my way back from work, tired, and feeling sorry for myself at the end of a long long day. Stuck at a forever-red light, I thought things couldn't get any worse. And just then, I heard the unmistakable wailing of an ambulance siren behind me. Forgetting everything, I craned my neck to see how far behind us it was, and if the other cars were going to make way for it. Thankfully, the light changed to green just in time and all the vehicles, in a very civil fashion (surprise, surprise!) parted like the Red Sea to make way for the ambulance. It whizzed past me, just giving me enough time to notice a woman’s anguished face at the rear window.

What is it about ambulances? My heart always stops for a second when I hear that plaintive moan which, a true testimony to Doppler, grows louder and then fades into the distance, leaving me with a prayer on my lips and memories of all the times (thankfully, only a few) when I had felt that anguish, that helplessness, that sense of despair. I haven’t ever had to ride in an ambulance, but if I ever see people at the back, I can’t help but wonder how serious the patient’s condition is, what their circumstances in life are, whether they have the sort of support system so very crucial for anyone who has family in the hospital, and whether the poor man, or woman, is going to make it.

There’s something about ambulances that indicates that you’ve already lost control over the sick person. When things are bad enough for a person to call an ambulance, it’s like they’re already telling the hospital, "take this person, we don’t think we can do anything more right now". The shutting out of the family begins already, not with the doors that shut in your face when the patient is taken into an operation theatre or ICU that you can’t enter, but with wheeling the stretcher into the ambulance. And after that, you’re just along for the ride, praying and trying to be positive. But it’s hard.

There’s something about ambulances that indicates that you’ve lost your right to privacy already. Not for you the quiet worrying as you drive to hospital. Not for you the chance to have a few reassuring words alone with the person who is unwell. Everyone on the way turns his or her head to look at the ambulance (everyone like me, that is). Some, like me, take a moment from their busy lives to think about what you might be going through. And, if it’s any consolation, they cross their fingers and sometimes murmur the name of their god for your sake. My heartfelt wishes go out to the woman I saw in the ambulance today, and to anyone who has ever had to accompany someone to hospital in an ambulance.

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