Newest Review: ... into it I couldn't put it down. There's no plot, it simply is Tom's jottings and thoughts on his important role. He has a very engagin... more
101 things to do with an ambulance
Blood, Sweat and Tea - Tom Reynolds
Member Name: historywitch
Blood, Sweat and Tea - Tom Reynolds
Advantages: Short, absorbing, compelling, fascinating, imbued with a refreshing cynicism
Disadvantages: Quite gory in places, disturbing.
Tom Reynolds (not his real name) is an Emergency Medical Technician for the London Ambulance Service. He has been writing his blog since 2003 at randomreality.blogware.com. This book is a collection of his favourite posts from the blogs, polished up into this 289 page paperback.
The book consists of a series of short paragraphs, occasionally stretching to a page or two. Each section has a small picture of an ambulance or a cup of tea at the top so you know where each new one starts. A section is usually pretty much what was posted on his blog at the time, with the difference that there is no indication of what day, month or even year the section was written. This layout means that this book is particularly easy to pick up and put down, sometimes necessary as the content can be very strong and sometimes disturbing.
Tom Reynolds gives us a real taste of what it is like to travel with an ambulance or First Response Unit and removes that ‘Casualty’ and ‘ER’ gloss from the reality. Its exhausting, dirty, demoralising, unpleasant and often disgusting work, working shifts in the cash strapped NHS … dealing with ‘frequent flyers’ (drunks and tramps) and often acting as ‘Materna-taxis’ for women whose contractions can be ‘measured on a calendar’. Yet Tom Reynolds enjoys his job and this is reflected in his writing, so whilst I felt depressed, annoyed and angry in places his enthusiasm (and dry cynicism) and the happier stories pulled me through.
Reynold’s views can be quite strident and he doesn’t pull any punches, whether it is about government targets, midwives, his views on alcoholism or parents who smoke around their children. It is quite likely that you will get cross with him at some point in this book, but he makes strong arguments for all of his points and I have certainly been enlightened on several issues. For instance I was aware that the government had put targets on arrival times for ambulances – they have to be there in 8 minutes. However, that’s all that matters; if you arrive at 8 minutes and the patient dies for whatever reason, that’s a success. If you arrive at 9 minutes and the patient receives life saving care and ultimately survives-that’s a failure! LAS have to hit 75% or they don’t receive the same amount of funding and with London traffic and the chronic cash-strappedness of the NHS they sometimes struggle to hit this. Crazy.
There is also material in this book that some people may find disturbing, including the deaths of children and descriptions of bodies/medical procedures. I had to put the book down at one point with tears in my eyes and at another with tears of rage after I read about the death of an 8 year old from asthma after her parents continued to smoke around her. This is an insight into the lives and houses of patients (always anonymised though), from the cardiac arrest to the teenager with hayfever and baby with a cough. Reynolds talks with equanimity and patience (well, more patience than I would have!) of those chronic drunks/tramps who are pushed from pillar to post and return again and again to his ambulance. He even manages to have sympathy for the HIV positive man whose vomit he inadvertently swallowed and the pages following his exposure to the virus are extremely touching and well written as he deals with the possible consequences. Parts of the book are incredibly depressing and infuriating as you read about doctors whose shoddy care means ambulances have to be called, care home workers who couldn’t give a damn about their elderly patients and failures of government policy which ultimately lead to ambulance men and women putting their lives in regular danger.
Lighter moments include a section about the perils and pitfalls of being a blogger and occasional glimpses into the life of an unattached shift worker. A particularly well written scene with the ambulance station cat had me laughing out loud, having owned a similarly contrary animal myself I could certainly sympathise! And amongst the horrifying, terrifying and just plain sad stories he tells, there are those that make your heart glow and have that happy ending that we have been hoping for all along, the jobs that went right.
I loved this book and have been recommending it wildly! It’s a real eye-opening look into the realities of the NHS and the life and job of someone on the front line of NHS care.
It made me angry, made me sob and made my heart beat faster-especially on a memorable passage describing a high speed drive to a patient. Lasting several pages it puts you behind the wheel of a vehicle rushing to a call through heavy traffic, sirens blaring. Exhilirating and brilliantly written. Whilst not for the faint hearted I think this is one of the most memorable and interesting books I have read for a good while. You can also visit his blog and read some of it online for free (as his blog is the book!) and to also get a sense of his style and sense of humour! I prefer my paperback version however, its easier to fit in my pocket!
I now have more of an appreciation for the work of the ambulance services, the stresses and pressures of the job and an admiration for the people they are. If I ever need an ambulance I hope Tom Reynolds is on board!
***Price and Stockists***
RRP is £7.99 but I got my copy from Amazon.co.uk for £3.99.
Reading the reviews on Amazon, it seems that I am not alone in my opinion of this book!
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