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View from the Frontline: the St John Ambulance volunteer

Isabelle Aron
Written by
Isabelle Aron

In the first instalment of our new View from the Frontline series, in which we bring you stories from Londoners in key worker roles, we talk to St John Ambulance volunteer Zain Osmani. The 23-year-old west Londoner is currently training to be a doctor and he’s been volunteering with St John Ambulance since he was a child.

My role is to be front line emergency crew responding to 999 calls on behalf of the London ambulance service. I’ll have been an ambulance clinician with St John Ambulance for five years this summer. Whenever there is an increased demand on the NHS, St John Ambulance support them.

At the moment, I’m following a rota of four shifts on and four shifts off. My shifts are 12 hours, 10am to 10pm. My day starts at our ambulance hub – we check the ambulance, take out all the kit, clean it and have a briefing. Then we book on with the ambulance service and we’re there as one of their resources for the day to send to any emergency calls – that could be anything from someone who’s fallen at home to suspected Covid-19 patients to cardiac arrest.

It’s an odd and challenging time, whether you’re a healthcare worker or not. We’ve all got unique challenges but it’s really rewarding to be doing what I’m doing, it allows me to support London, support my community and do my bit. For me, it’s an opportunity to do something positive. I grew up in London so it’s nice to be doing it in the community that I grew up in. 

I’ve never done this many shifts back-to-back, my volunteering role has increased significantly. This is the longest continuous deployment as a volunteer that myself and my colleagues have ever taken. For St John Ambulance, it’s the biggest deployment that we’ve taken since World War Two, I believe. 

Almost every shift we’ll see either a suspected or confirmed Covid-19 patient. It was made very clear when the opportunity was given for us to sign up for these shifts that we weren’t under any obligation as there was a very real chance that we’d be coming into contact with patients suffering from Covid-19. 

I wouldn’t say there is any anxiety about coming into contact with Covid-19 patients for me or my colleagues. We’re here to do a job and we all have our reasons for why we’re doing that job. The focus is very much on doing our bit for this pandemic and trying to help as many people as we can at a time when they need it.

Random acts of kindness from members of the public are really heartwarming. The smallest of gestures mean a lot. Over the past few weeks, as we’re driving around on our shifts, members of the public have been giving us a wave or a thumbs-up. The other day a gentleman raised his hat as we drove past. Small gestures like that go a long way to boosting morale and knowing that people are appreciative of what we’re doing. 

I’ve had a lot of support from my family. Last Thursday I was on a shift and I had a missed call at 8pm from my grandfather and when I returned his call he said: ‘I was just calling because it was Thursday at 8pm and I wanted to say thank you.’ It was really sweet.

The patients we see and their families are incredibly grateful. It’s not something we expect or need but when the patients or their loved ones thank us – and you can see the sincerity with which they thank us – that’s really heartwarming. It drives us to continue what we’re doing.

Patients are more worried about going to the hospital at the moment, which is understandable. There’s an element of fear of catching the virus while they’re there. Part of our job is to console them, provide them with support and reassure them that hospital is the right place for them.

For patients with Covid-19, or suspected cases, it’s about explaining that there is a need for them to be in the hospital. Part of it is just being a human and saying: I can see you’re worried and anxious and your family is anxious but I’m here to help you. Going to the hospital does not mean that this is the end, it’s just the next step in the treatment.

I didn’t need to think about whether I’d volunteer or not during this time. I’m very passionate about the work I do with St John Ambulance. These are times when ambulances and the healthcare system are under increased demand and we as emergency ambulance crews have the skills, knowledge and capabilities to be able to help. As soon as the opportunity was made available for us to go out and be delivering frontline ambulance shifts, I started from day one. It wasn’t something I needed to really think on, it was clear to me that this is the right thing for me to be doing right now.

Here’s how to help (and get help) in London during lockdown.

Find ways to volunteer in London right now.

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