Beyond the cacophony of noise and the terror of the siren, a lone man battles the city’s traffic with just one thing in mind — saving lives. Blazing at a speed of over 130 km per hour, placing at stake his life and those of several others, the little-known and much less celebrated ambulance driver is an important prong who is constantly overlooked, in an organ transplantation or an accident call.
The limelight almost always escapes the ambulance driver’s cabin but the role they play in organ donation is worthy enough to be equated to that of a super specialist doctor on certain levels. The unsung heroes of any organ donation or heart transplant story, the only prayer on the lips of a driver when he makes that mad dash between hospitals is, ‘Lord, let this patient live to see happier days’.
It may be one of the world’s most stressful and less recognized jobs but it rates high on job satisfaction, say ambulance drivers in the city. “I may only transport the organ but when I see the patient go home from the hospital I have a sense of peace that even I played a role in their recovery,” says G Solomon Paulraj, an ambulance driver at Dr K M Cherian’s Frontier Lifeline Hospital.
There is only one shot and no chance is taken. Transportation of an organ from a donor’s hospital to the recipient’s often involves a long wait, untimely hours and even an inability to attend nature’s call. The wait at the donor’s hospital when the organs are harvested is full of suspense. Anticipation of the organ’s arrival is constantly hovering over the ambulance driver’s head.
The longest that V Paramasivam, an ambulance driver, has waited is 16 hours. Along with one of his colleagues, he waited from 9 pm till 1 pm the next day to transport a heart from the Government General Hospital.
Throughout the night, the anticipation kept them awake and respite came only when the heart was reached its destination.
When organs are transported, especially in the case of a heart transplant, the ambulance follows a police escort vehicle, and a back up ambulance comes third as a standby in the event that the ambulance carrying the organ breaks down. Every assignment is thrilling and every journey is a well repeated story.
The excitement is still fresh as D Srinivasan, a 37-year-old ambulance driver, recounts his experience of transporting a patient from the airport for a heart transplant. Encountering a traffic diversion and coping with blocked roads, Srinivasan managed to dash to the hospital and soon after he reached his destination the ambulance broke down. “The van refused to start but thankfully I had reached the hospital building. Now, the patient is healthy and calls me up occasionally and even visits the hospital when she can,” he reminisces. Covering a particularly difficult stretch at the speeds that these ambulance drivers reach could make one dumbfounded.
T Krishnan made an unbelievable record even for an ambulance driver when he transported a heart that arrived by air, in 7 minutes over a 19 km route.
But does the speed and the pressure take its toll on the health of an ambulance driver? No, say younger drivers but S Bhaskaran, who has been driving ambulances for over 23 years, is quick to refute. A cardiac hospital employee, he has undergone angioplasty and yet continues to drive ambulances with a stent in his heart.
B Senthilkum ar, Apollo Hospital, says that the surroundings become oblivious as the senses are focused on the only goal of reaching the hospital.
But these ambulance drivers do not complain. Being appreciated may not happen very often but there are no regrets. At the end of the day saving one life is much more reason to rejoice than a job well done.