Abuse Your Ambulance Crew

I was racially abused on Friday night, and it meant I spent the rest of my night gritting my teeth and wanting to punch someone.

We were sent to a ‘standard’ abdominal pain with vomiting.  The patient, a black woman, had vomited ten times that day and had lower abdominal pain.  As always I treated the patient with respect and compassion (as that is my ‘default setting’).  All her observations were within the normal limits.  Talking to the patient was a bit tricky as she insisted on having me ask every question at least twice before answering.

So we took her to hospital, where I handed over the patient to the triage nurse.  She was happy to have another nurse perform a further assessment (for example an analysis of the patient’s urine).  Unfortunately the place for this assessment was physically full, so we were asked to take the patient into the waiting room until some space could be made.  My crewmate did this, while I booked the patient in with the reception staff.

My crewmate told me that when the patient saw she was going to be put in the waiting room, she let out a loud ‘tut!’.

My crewmate then joined me in the reception area which overlooks the waiting room.

The patient then threw herself on the floor and pretended to be unconscious (trust me, when you’ve seen people really pass out in a chair, you can tell when they are faking it).

The waiting room erupted with two people jumping to her aid.  The security guards went to get a nurse.  Then a lot of the people in the room started shouting at us to come and help.  Never mind the half inch thick glass between us and them.

We told them that some nurses were on the way.

“Look at her!  Look what’s happened to her!”, shouted one man.

“Yes mate”, replied my crewmate, “there’s nothing wrong with her – all she’s trying to do is get seen before you”.

The patient was loaded onto a trolley and taken into the main area of the A&E.

The crowd in the waiting room then started moaning at us…

Then both my crewmate and myself heard the comment that would have us angry for the rest of the shift.

“You wouldn’t treat her like that if she were white”.

My crewmate stormed out of the department – he was, quite rightly, fuming.

All I could do was laugh loudly at the black teenager who had said this – “Well, if you are that stupid, you’ve just opted out of talking to me”, I said to her.

I booked in the patient and left the hospital.

Here is the thing that made my crewmate and I so angry.  We like our job – we both like helping people and we’ll help anyone, we don’t care about what colour their skin is, which religion that they believe in, or if they can speak English or not.  I don’t even care if they are an illegal immigrant.  We sure as hell don’t do this work for the pay.  My crewmate is a trained plumber, so he could be earning much more money installing radiators.

We don’t need to work in this area – I could put in for a transfer to a more ‘white’ area tomorrow.  But I enjoy working in East London – it’s a challenge and I enjoy working with all the different cultures that make up our ‘demographic’.  For me, a predominantly white area would be incredibly boring.

But…that comment, “You wouldn’t treat her like that if she were white”.  It made me despair as to how we are seen by the non-white population.  Are we all seen as being racist?  Does the assumption that I would treat a patient better if they were white sit in the minds of the people I treat?  Is this why I get so few “thank you”s?  When I walk into a household, do the people there think “I won’t get good treatment from these two, they are both white”?

I wish I’d gone around to the person who had made the comment and challenged her.  I wish I’d gone into the waiting room and explained exactly what had happened.  But…as I mentioned yesterday, the uniform that I wear makes me more passive than I would normally be.  So I turned the other cheek and walked away.

I’m still fuming.

26 thoughts on “Abuse Your Ambulance Crew”

  1. I'm fuming on your behalf. I (like you, I believe) used to be a primary school teacher and I used to get abuse like this quite regularly. Normally, as you'd expect, when I was telling off a child that felt hard-done by. The thing that annoys me the most about situations like this is unnecessary calls of racism mean that when real racism occurs, fewer people take it seriously…

  2. im white and get racially abused between 2 and 10 time a year. usually when i lock a computer account for viewing porn. one lad told is parents i had put it there so i could get him. the parents came in complained. long story short, his uncle has a computer degree, came in and said they files where stored by his account, he viewed and stored them and showed all the images to his sister and her husband. they were not amused. oh did i say 42 of the porn images where of pre-op transexuals.If I deserve it fine, i take it on the chin. but when it not it winds me up. the people that use the race card to get they own way just feed the uk version of the kkk nutters

  3. Tom I'm fuming aswell over this one. I had this at work last year about how i treated one person differently rubbish. she put in a complaint about me and it was thrown out. subseqeuntly she has made other racial complaints about othe teams members who are asian and she's from nigeria. i question this?is racism seen as white versus black or black verses black or white verses white scottish against english against welsh, country's against country's. its the person inside not the outside.

  4. It amazes me how quick some people are to play the race card. A while ago, a man called up from a payphone in a supermarket with abdominal pain. It was a busy day, so he had to wait a while for an ambulance. Not content with waiting, he called again and again, as some people do. Then he got the supermarket staff to call for him, and finally he enlisted the help of a passerby.”Why's he been waiting so long?” stormed the passerby. “I bet it's because of the colour of his skin!”

    Did the “helpful” passerby think that we had a video link to the payphone? Or did he think we'd actually asked the caller the colour of his skin: “Are you white? Certainly, it'll be right with you. Black? No, sorry, back of the queue!” Idiot!

  5. Ugh. What a stupid comment – no wonder you were fuming. I'm seriously impressed that you were able to walk away so calmly. And no wonder it's made you question how people see you.People can be very ignorant, and I guess you get to see a lot of people at their worst. On the other hand, that mindless knee-jerk comment probably doesn't represent the default view of your whole ethnic minority population. Unfortunately, like minifiq says, that kind of attitude makes things worse in terms of tackling real racism.

    On another point, mc1rvariant's right; I think loads of people do feel they can rant at representatives – be that a paramedic, a policeman, an NHS manager or a British Rail ticket clerk – as a way of having a go at the system without having to think about the person they are attacking, particularly if that person's in uniform.

  6. Beyond black or white, you also gotta think that the person who made that comment was a teenager… they say some really stupid things. Hell, when I was a teenager I said such stupid things! I'm embarrassed to even remeber them. So what you did (i.e. turn away) was, I think, spot on. An alternative would have been to sit down and explain all what you have said in the post to her, but that would have taken time and a supernatural ability to control your emotions. But it would have probably taught her not to be so gratuitous with her comments – kids say whatever comes to their mind and it often takes an adult to tell them when they are out of line.

  7. Your post yesterday was right, those in uniform do have more perceived authority and the ability to get people to do things they wouldn't otherwise do.They also make people approach you with a whole different set of stereotypes; the clothes you are wearing can change people's view of you. For instance, when I worked for a major high street retailer, some customers would automatically treat me as if I was completely thick, which I found very insulting (just because I'm working behind a till doesn't mean I dropped out of school – I'm actually a university student, but even if I wasn't, I'd still be offended by being treated like a 10 year old). Also at the same retailer, some customers would blame you for any small problem with the company; no doubt this is worse for public sector workers facing dissatisfied taxpayers.

    As for being racist; if you had been sat in plain clothes on the chair opposite in the waiting room, they'd have thought nothing if you'd made the same comment about her faking it. But because you are in uniform, in a position of authority, they see an opportunity to have a go at the system by abusing you. You in uniform represents an institution; they're not attacking you, as a person, but the authority you represent.

    If only people realised that every employee is an individual, whatever they're wearing, the world would be a better place.

  8. I have been reading your blog for a couple of years now and have finally decided to post a comment emphasising my feelings on this post.I have begun to realise that some black and ethnic people are more racist than 'whites'. The trouble with writing such things is that you get so concerned about whether you yourself are racist due to the way you may phrase things.

    My Dads partner is black and from Africa (lived here about 3 years now) and I like her. I do feel sometines that she looks for examples of racism due to to the stories she has read or heard about racism. There have been some instances where I agree that she has been racially abused and others that I believe have been fueled by newspaper articles and what can only be described as 'racist propaganda'.

    How you do your job I don't know especially when you are so unappreciated at times and for the abuse you suffer. Much of the problems I am sure are driven by the media with geat publicity of single events that make people believe this is normal and widespread and therfore look for it at every opportunity.

  9. there is a tendency of some people to be automatically on the defensive, that whole fight or flight thing, when they are in a stressful situation – which you'd think a lot of people in an A&E would be.Sometimes, sadly, it's pre-emptive “defensiveness” for any available reason that pops into mind.

    You do exactly the right thing in walking away from it.

  10. I used to live in New Orleans, majority black city, and some of the blacks are (quite rightly) resentful of The System. One day I was walking in a public park, saw a little black boy of seven or eight bullying somebody and told him to stop it. (I come from a Russian family. Russians are always doing stuff like that, so I guess it's genetic.) Well, his mother came striding up and got in my face immediately with a whole series of racial remarks about how I was mistreating her kid. I could just see the headlines: RACE RIOT CAUSED BY WHITE BUSYBODY. I managed to get her–not calmed down exactly, but at least she left me alone.Now the point (there is a point to all this) is that I lived in New Orleans for 13 years and that was the only time something like that happened. The same probably goes for you, Tom. You deal with hundreds of people. You get this sort of thing maybe once in a thousand times? (Unless you're keeping a stiff upper lip about all the other occurrences.) To me, it's amazing how well most people handle being badly treated, day in and day out. You're dealing with an infuriating racial slur once in a rare while. For them it's probably a daily or weekly occurrence, and yet, almost all them manage to stop from taking it out on every white in the area. It's a shame that some don't, especially to someone who's doing nothing but helping.

  11. Racism? In the few unfortunate occasions I was involved in arguments with non-white people they didn't wait long before throwing the 'white bitch' card at me. Reverse racism hurts as much, and I'm getting fed up with it.

  12. I've seen this happen a few times, some people use their race, sex or disability as a weapon. What they don't realise though is that they may be able to manipulate people in the short term but in the long term they will just make people distance themselves from them. Everyone will walk on eggshells to avoid an accusation. It's sure as hell not helping with integration when people are like that.I don't know how you kept from weeping with frustration. I think you did the right thing though.

  13. There are some days that I truely do NOT understand some people. I, like the others think you did a great job in saying 'naught' to the person. Even if it did cloud the rest of your shift.It's hard to do, turning 'off' to the idiots of this world. People are people first and formost, their colour/religion/age etc second. The sooner the identifiers understand that then the faster we'll get along. Utopian I know. I'm not that nieve to think it will happen any time soon, I just get sick of people giving a 'I'm not to blame, you are, you're racist' etc.

    To identify with something or some one, is in everyones natural instinct. But when it impeads on your life, like it appears to with that teenager, then how much can they be accepting of others in reverse.

  14. Many months ago I saw a program on C4 where an Indian man took a camera crew around East London. The whole program shows the true race issue. The real race war is between black and Asian and Asian against Asian. The Asians build businesses and the black (mostly West Indians) resent their success, The Asians hate the blacks because they see them as parasites on society. The Asians even refer to the West Indians as 'joli' which means 'thief' They have another word which means 'downgrade' implying a lesser member of society. The younger Asians resent their elders because of the differences in their attitudes to life, the elders keeping to their ingrained ways and the younger Asians wanting to be more liberated. That program was a real eye opener. Yet all we ever hear about is how white people are constantly accused of racism. I have seen many articles now proclaiming Enoch Powell was right and believe are heading for a national conflict. Call me racist if you like. But I have many black and Asian friends. Yes I do. We respect and accept each other and that is why we work well together. But the governments attitude to race relations is to put a lion and a lamb in the same cage and pass laws telling them to integrate.

  15. There's an interesting discussion on race which has some relevance to your experience– don't get frightened off by the title of the post, now:http://etaliae.blogspot.com/2006/02/in-which-i-think-about-something-other.html

    Here's my take: You experienced assumptions about you which were racially motivated. Racist? Reactionary? I'm not sure. Hurtful and unwarranted? Most certainly. Good for you for not losing it completely.

    On the other hand, I do think that your laughter, while vindicating, might not have been the response to best diffuse the situation.

    What we as a (ostensibly) power holding majority do and say is mined constantly for potential evidence of prejudice.

    It sucks, because this constant vigilance leads to so many assumptions of slight. And yet we all pay the price because no-one is willing to talk about race, to talk about intention, to figure out a language to begin to address and diffuse these assumptions.

    In short, I feel for you, and I also understand the anger the non-white patients in the waiting room felt, and hope you can see their perspective not knowing you and your intention.

    While I'm being picky, I might also add a cultural difference: In the US an assumption that a patient was faking would never be said aloud in a room of non medical staff for fear of possible medical malpractice suits. (It's possible that a suit due to prejudicial treatment might also be levied, but it's more usual to have sex discrimination cases than racial discrimination cases these days- which says alot about the pathetic state of status quo on race in the US.) Patients conditions are taken at face value and then de-escalated carefully to avoid lawsuit, often in spite of common sense. Huge strain on resources, but hey, that's why it's better to be a lawyer than a doctor in the states these days.

    Thanks for your insights, as always an inspiration.

    -Kumachka from across the pond

  16. Speaking as a Sri Lankan, living in a big multicultural city (Toronto), there are two things that I'm always subconsciously aware of:1) That I'm a female (and small at that)

    2) That I'm a racial minority

    That said, I find myself always trying to feel people out when it comes to those two things. While what that girl said was incredibly hurtful and uncalled for, I can't help but think she has a similar thing going on. As a teenager, who has no medical knowledge, or background on the situation with that old woman, there are going to be a few things her mind automatically jumps to when she sees this old woman “faint” and two medical professionals not jump in and help — I get the feeling she just said whatever came to her head without thinking. How do you reconcile yourself being panicked with two people (whose job it is to help) being so calm? This seems like an injustice, and what possibly is this girl's most familiar experience with injustice? Racism.

    Anyway, not condoning reverse-racism, but just trying to shed some light. I'm sorry you had to deal with that, especially while working an already difficult job.

    I've been reading and enjoying your blog for some time and thought it time to comment 🙂

  17. my grandfather worked as a fireman for most of his adult lifehe and his crew were all white, and their beat was a black neighbourhood in the ghetto.

    people would throw sticks and rocks and shout abuse at the firefighters and their trucks… the very firefighters who were saving their lives and their homes from being burned. how's that grab you?

  18. I don't know but I wouldn't call that an abuseShe didn't say “You just did that because you are white” did she?

    It was just the other day when I was sitting on a bench and a young black bloke stopped in front of me: “Hi sweetheart how're you doin, fancy a good time?”

    I didn't answer – not because he was black – obviously – and he said “hey are you not talking to me cos I'm black hey?”

    Sorry but it is known that black people tend to say those kind of things all the time and sometimes it makes me think they've got much more problems with their colour than we so I'd just ignore it if I were you, mate, it is stupid

    I don't think they'd appreciate your work less because you are not black like them that's rubbish.

    I don't think you should worry about that comment and the black lady's behaviour was just stupid (throwing yourself on the floor like a child to get treatment how silly can one be?)

    The guys in the waiting room couldn't tell she was faking it so it's their fault not yours!

    You also said it was a teenager saying that so actually you should be able to ignore it shouldn't you?

  19. Has anyone noticed there are a lot of white South Africans coming to the UK?Why?

    Because the current government has turn apartheid on its head. The black SAs have priority in everything. Housing, work, education, its all geared to the black people. Where are the civil liberty groups now? Very quiet arent they?

    How long before it happens here?

  20. I have experienced racism as a white female throughout my life. My (Welsh) friend was racially bullied horribly at junior school by the black and asian girls in her class (she was one of about 10 white kids in the school) adn the teachers openly admitted there was nothing they could do to stop it because they would be seen as racist.As a healthcare professional, working in a very diverse area, I have found little racism (but I think that might be because I'm genuinely interested in the things that make our cultures different, plus I work in primary care and get to know my clients well). However, I was caring for a woman recently whose husband was being very difficult. She needed to stay in hospital; she wasn't well enough to go home. Her husband started saying things like 'it's different for us black people, we know about being well, she is fine, I just know, we don't need your machines'. She was telling him to shut up. In the end I said 'Sorry, but if we had the equipment available and didn't use it just because you were black, we could never justify that if something went wrong'. He took the point and stopped being an idiot.

    It annoys me that people are scared of others just because they were born in a different place in the world; but it annoys me more that some seek favours and special treatment because of the same reason, playing the 'race' card to get what they want.

  21. Not “reverse” racism. Whatever the color of a bigot, or whomever they discriminate against, it's still the same crap.If that kid had been a white kid, who made a racist remark about the woman faking it, you would have had to just walk away. No reasoning with such unreasonable people in that kind of situation.

    I didn't have any racism until I was unjustly accused of it. Now it is sometimes all I can do not to assume that black person in front of me doesn't automatically hate me because I am white. I am wary and judgmental in anticipation. I hate that I feel this.

  22. Some years ago in Newham, during election time, we got some a BNP candidates leaflet posted through the door. My initial though was to bin it straight away, but then I decided to read what their take was in Newham. What surprised me was that they didn't outrightly spew some racist rant – it was written is a very subtle way, but you could understand what it was getting at. This is why I think a few non white people might jump to the wrong conclusion in some situations – racist behaviour is becoming more cleverly concealed.There are some people that will “play the race card” to their advantage. Some will see a particular situation and assume that the racism is happening, rightly or wrongly. quixote's post mentioned that some people get racially abused on a daily basis (they would probably happily trade for the 2 to 10 times a year experience) but accept it as inevitable. Some don't and are vocal about it. It doesn't help when people start saying Enoch Powell was right, no matter how many {insert racial group here} friends they have.

    On a slightly different note, there has been stuff in the local rag a fortnight ago about a guy who was stabbed, went into a local clinic and had other patients stemming the blood flow with toilet tissue paper for 20 mins. And another guy dying whilst obviously distressed in Newham's A&E. The people that were moaning about Reynold and his crewmate might have had those incidents in mind.

  23. Tom, its a sad fact that there are people who will play the 'race' card at every opportunity if they think it will get them to the front of the queue first. In fact they'll use it to every person not of their race / gender / whatever “You wouldn't do this if I was white / straight / taller.” Sometimes you have to duck when they turn round because these guys don't just have a chip on their shoulder, it's a plank. Know how it feels mate. You're not the only one. Keep going.Regards

    Bill

  24. I'm forever being called a ''pinkie'' at work and it annoys the hell out of me….Another thing that annoys me is that certain 'minorities'.. can have magazines called 'black beauty' and 'asian women'

    If we had 'white beauty' or 'White woman' magazines imagine the uproar!!!

    Argh

  25. This reminded me of the time I was called in for a disciplinary talk while working on one of the bars at Lord's a few years ago. Apparently the staff of that particular bar had drawn complaints for not seeming as cheery as usual- I explained this was because one member of staff had run out with the tip jar and brought it back with a noticeable amount missing, costing us all money. She just happened to be African, which I had thought was irrelevant, but when the whole of the bar's staff- mainly Asian and African- confronted her about it, she singled out myself and the only other white memeber of staff and said to the others “See? They see our colour, this is how they treat us…” By “They” of course she meant “white people” and it was in fact her being racist and trying to cover up the theft we'd all just witnessed. Of course it was me who ended up having to attend a disciplinary talk (fortunately they let me explain my case and cleared me of any wrongdoing) and while the racist was forced to apologise to us, she still got away with it, claiming her actions were “because of the menopause”. Please do let us know if you ever get a call-out to a menopausally-motivated racist attack, I've never heard of one before…It's bad enough when it happens to mere bar staff who aren't doing an essential job, so hearing that people treat emergency services staff the same way just makes me even angrier. I get so angry when people assume I must be inherently racist because of my colour- this is just another form of prejudice and equally unacceptable. I still got it pretty regularly even while I was working for a community foundation, helping to distribute funding to projects set up to help, among others, minority groups. I was a volunteer at the time, but like you I did this work because I enjoyed it, it's just a shame a lot of people don't appreciate it. I think some people just like to seek attention by playing the victim, not unlike the woman who faked a collapse…

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