opening the door to second chances

Second chance.

It’s a deed we hope we could all be paid by fellow humans. Especially from the ones we care about the most. And, equally, a courtesy our employers will never withhold. At least we hope.

It’s a trait synonymous with sport. A chance to score an equalising goal. A try on the rugby field to put the brakes on the opposition’s celebrations … if only for a few blissful minutes. A better shot at the next hole, and a catch that makes up for the one you dropped only an over ago.

While this may be true of sport, dealing with real life-and-death emergency rescue situations is often a different ballgame altogether… where all too frequently the reality of a second chance becomes an elusive dream as someone’s life hangs in the balance. And all it takes is a few seconds.

This is the stark reality I experienced when spending a Saturday with an awe-inspiring dedicated emergency paramedic from the City of Ekurhuleni’s Emergency and Rescue Services.

my face when I realized how much the petrol costs

my face when I realized how much the petrol costs

Michael David Callow, or MD (a nickname I affectionately adopted, despite his initial reservations), has a line of work in which the clock is always ticking. And a shot at a winning goal is often not guaranteed. Still, MD remains undaunted by this fact as fellow blogger, Andrew Berry and I would soon find out.

We joined him at his station in Palm Ridge. Under the guidance of Jasmyn Asvat, the producer of the documentary aimed at honouring the work these emergency rescue workers do. This is under the Centrum® Guardians

We were given a short brief of what the night will be about. With the mention of psychologies, it became clear this will be one of those “I will never un-see that” moments. So while Andrew and I put our poker faces on, MD cracked jokes and suited up in his “superman” gear.

We prayed for a good night. We prayed for a bad night. And in MD’s day-to-day, these two terms are highly relative. While we hoped ‘a day in the life of…’ would be fully executed, the reality of what that might look like wasn’t lost on us.

We knew with trepidation and a sense of inner conflict that a life would have to be at risk in order for us to fully understand and appreciate MD’s day and his commitment to the duty of saving lives.

Thankfully we were eased gently into the night with our first call being a ‘baddie’. A false alarm following a reported shooting in a nearby taxi-rank in one of the townships. Fortunately the caller more than exaggerated his wound. I suspect that it was more his ego, than anything else that was bruised.

However, not knowing this resulted in first-hand exposure to an extreme form of advanced driving, as MD broke ALL the rules that my driver’s license proves that I know; but judging by his urgency, it became clear just how precious the seconds from the dispatch call to arriving as soon as possible to the scene can actually be.

Let me put this in context:

MD is not an ambulance driver. He’s the guy they expect to be first on a level-beyond-critical scene. If he is called, it means things are not looking good for anyone involved. He’s at the scene while ambulances are being located and dispatched.

MD is authorized to drive on the wrong side of the road. Yup, if need be he’d be driving into oncoming traffic. He’s that annoying dude who will interrupt the Tweet you were drafting about the heavy traffic. You make way for him.
Regardless of how cool you look behind your brand new Mercedes, you make way for this annoying creature as he might be the second chance you pray for to see your loved one again.

Unfortunately we did meet this ‘cool’ person on our way to the second call of the evening. I have never been more embarrassed of humans in my life.

Apart from that driver in a white Mercedes, I noticed another interesting thing on our way to this second call. A few robots away from location, we bumped into Netcare 911. They were going to same scene and instead of trying to beat them there, MD stopped the car, rolled down his windows and gave them direction. I raised an eyebrow… I would get an answer, but only later.

We approached the scene. My incurable curiosity makes me look braver than I really feel.

Andrew is a little more cautious. Nothing fatal… I sent a silent prayer of thanks. We discover a drunk-homeless fella, who was hit by someone who didn’t see him. The driver stayed to make sure he was going to be okay, he got patched up and prepared for hospital.

We left the scene and reflected on the night so far as we drove back to the call centre. En route we detour to the emergency service petrol station. As far as the petrol situation goes, these people are in the Promised Land I tell you.

R1.for a litre. I’m cold with jealousy at this fact. R1!
No doubt this is a small token of appreciation to these men and women who are dedicated to saving the lives of others. Still, my Ford Figo could do with a R45 top-up.

Inside the call centre we meet the faces and voices behind 10 177. They are as normal and silly as you and I, something which makes a starling contrast to the mangled mess of horrors they have to endure.

Forty minutes must’ve past. We drive out again. MD is cracking jokes. Some funny, others, funny – well, maybe at a stretch.

We’re going to an emergency service coffee spot; a Sasol garage nearby where every guy with those annoying lights gets their mid-night coffee. Safest place in the area for sure.

I’m curious about a number of things, and needed to satisfy them frown from earlier.

While the rest of the crew gets coffee, Andrew and I quiz the guys (government and private services) about how they work.

While it’s obvious who goes to private hospitals for them that’s not what it is about they tell us. Private Service guys treat everyone regardless who’s going to be taking the bill.

Same with MD, he goes where he is called and he will send a patient to the nearest hospital regardless of financial status. The level of respect for each other is evident. There’s no competition in saving lives. I am a little sceptical, of course, but I’ll soon be proven wrong.

Third call.

There’s an overturned car about 35kms away resulting in MD to transport us at 220km/hour. That’s mighty fast. I’ve never driven past 150kms in my car, and I brace myself for what was coming. Adrenaline pumping, heck I can’t even imagine that speed.

A few minutes away from this scene MD gets a call that the ambulance dispatched to this scene has also just overturned. It’s the guys from his unit. He doesn’t blink. 

He approaches the deadly scene and is met by one of the private guys. They need his expertise. It’s deadly.

Again my curiosity marches me forward. A male mid-20s, early 30s is lying on the floor, a pipe down his pipes. He’s not moving. We are cautioned from physically ‘helping’, so I do the only thing I can do in that moment: I pray.

Louder than earlier. He’s not moving. I plead. No pulse, as visible exhaustion from grown men doing CPR doesn’t help. I plead with Jesus. Nada.

As I watch the human spirit of the caregivers around me, I’m in awe. MD and the many private emergency services are pulling all their resources to save this life. To them he may be a stranger but at that moment nothing matters more than ensuring he gets a second chance.

MD’s invisible superman suit is now glowing. You wouldn’t say this is the same man whose friends could be dying just a few blocks away from here, his focus is totally on this stranger.

I look at the car; Mpumalanga plates, this boy is far from home. I ask about his family. No one knows because cell-phone must’ve been overthrown as the car rolled. 

They’ve search the entire car, finding only a licence. The trace doesn’t return contact number; just a confirmation this boy is far from home. It’s hopeless. Jesus.

The sadness of this moment hits home for me. This brother, son, possible father and husband or boyfriend is lying on this dirt and the people who care about him the most do not even know.

What right do I have, as a stranger to be here as he take his last breath? This sense of aloneness is hard to bear, dying away from family. Still, I cannot help feeling slightly comforted, seeing the men around him, caring about him, trying to revive him.

Despite their frantic efforts, minutes later, MD approaches us, his superman suit is deflated… this is one of those he couldn’t reach. I wonder how he doesn’t let it get to him.

His mind is now on his friends. I wonder if he’s expecting the worst there too… thank God we did not have to wonder too long. Apart from a couple of bumps they were fine. 

They swerved for a drunk-driver who too was going to live along with his passengers.

It is an evening of life and death; some people with second chances, some with no chance at all. Police are now at the scene. 

MD tells us he never lets treating ‘family’ be different to any other patient, because he only has less than imaginable seconds to make a defining difference. Never have seconds mattered more…. 

Another call few minutes later. Same story, driver overturned. This one stone-cold sober blacked out for a minute and was on the other side of the highway. He and his passenger are alright, also just a few bumps.

Exhausted emotionally (although our poker faces still intact) and cold we ask if we can call it a night. We get our wish.

As we reflect on the night’s events, MD is back to his highbrow humour like the day’s happenings were just a distant tale.

It dawns on me that’s how it doesn’t get to him. His humour is his shield. While there’s therapy available for them THIS is MD’s therapy. 

It is how he is able to survive. Not just live by, but it’s how he channels what he sees every day. How he is able to save my fellow human’s lives.

The night shows me that there’s a whole new world out there. A world in which, despite it’s extreme challenges, the indomitable human spirit reigns supreme.
This experience gives me insight into hope and faith in possibility, washing away my earlier skepticism.

Yes, there are many times when the situation is insurmountable, when the harsh reality is that there are no second chances, not in the rescue and emergency game. But then again, there’s the other side I witnessed with MD, which reveres life and celebrates the beauty of being human.

Michael David Callow, you are a real “superhero”, teaching me that heroes are found in many different walks of life – on the sports field, yes; and in people like you, committed to overcoming the battlefield of life and death, impacting every life that you touch.

Thank you for inviting me into your world. You make a difference…

If this post didn’t give you a great detail of the night, CG guys took a video of the night. Watch it HERE 

9 thoughts on “opening the door to second chances

  1. Wow , this is such an eye opener … We have many Hero s who do so much good . This must have been an experience you will never forget .

  2. This gives a lot of insight into a world most people don’t experience too often. It must have been extremely difficult to witness that driver’s last breath. Life is precious and it’s moments like that which bring that truth closer to home, especially when seen together with the care and dedication to sustaining life shown by Michael Callow.

  3. I know a few paramedics and other acquaintances in the field who’ve shared some harrowing stories with me before, but this really helped drive home the gravity of what these people have to go through on a daily basis, Nokwe. Life and death hanging on a precipice.

    • Duuuuude! I couldn’t look at the video because the text alone brought all of that.

      Was definitely one of those nights that will stay with me forever.

      thanks for the read

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