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"I saw more in 14 hours than in 18 years in Jersey"

Tuesday 24thth April 2018

While most use their holidays to kick back and relax, one Jersey girl's travels saw her unexpectedly faced with dramatic stab wounds, and even looking after a baby, as she took on a surprise shift with a South African ambulance crew. Frances Le Cornu says she saw more in 14 hours with the South African crew than in her 18 years with St. John Ambulance.

The 23-year-old has been with St. John Ambulance since she was five years old and is now a first aid trainer. While traveling around various countries, Frances spent three weeks in Cape Town. During her second week there, she went on a township tour and couldn't miss the opportunity to visit the local ambulance service.

She told Express: "I had to be nosey and went to visit the local ambulance. The crew offered me to go with them for a night shift. I spent five hours with them on a Friday night and then went back for another shift on the Sunday night. In total, I did 14 hours with them." For Frances, first aid is not just a job but also a hobby - one she fell in love with when she was only five.

"My dad's daughter was a member of St. John Ambulance," she said. "And we used to pick her up. I used to love the liquorice they had there! As soon as I turned five, I joined. "I love meeting new people and helping people. While traveling, I kind of missed it. I love my job. Joining the crew was like being home away from home for me."

Pictured: Frances joined St. John Ambulance when she was only five.

Eighteen years and over 1,000 hours of service later, Frances is now a first aid trainer. For the past three years, she has also been a community first responder for the ambulance service. Frances' credentials did not go unnoticed with the Cape Town ambulance crew. "They were quite impressed with my qualifications," she said. "I'm quite young and in South Africa, at 23 years people are still studying. That's why they invited me to come with them."

While her choice of vacation occupation might seem unusual to some, Frances is glad she jumped on the unexpected opportunity. She says she learnt a lot and can't wait to share her stories with her trainees once back in Jersey. "I have seen a lot more in those 14 hours with the crew than in my 18 years with St. John Ambulance. At one point, we had four casualties at the back of the ambulance. First aid is a lot different in South Africa, you treat what you can see and move on to the next casualty, as they call them."

"We had quite a lot of stab wounds but it is the norm for them. They were quite relaxed about it but inside myself I was thinking, 'Oh my god, this is a stab wound'. The worst injury I saw was a guy who had been stabbed and his neck sliced open horizontally. The wound was two to three inches wide and he refused treatment so they bandaged him up and he walked off. There is nothing they can do with someone over the age of 18 who refuses treatment."

Pictured: Frances in the back of the ambulance which has two stretchers to treat more patients at a time.

The first aider was not only surprised by the nature of the injuries she saw on shift with the South African crew but also by the way things are done. "Everyone is so lucky to have the ambulance service," she explained. "We picked up high priority calls but we also picked up other non-emergency calls. Some of the people had waited nine to 10 hours to get picked up.

"Then we dropped them off at A&E, and there were people everywhere. It was chaos, organised chaos. There is not much communication between the ambulance crew and the staff in A&E. You just give a name and maybe if it was a stab wound or dog bite and you leave. In Jersey, there is a proper handover, you give your observation and you can find out what happened to the people. I prefer that. There was a lot of things that I did as part of my training that I couldn't quite put into practice because you don't have the time. We once picked up four casualties in five minutes."

Pictured: Frances with some of the crew members she worked with.

While with the crew, Frances also got to witness how they certify a death. "We went to a nursing home, which was very different compared to the nursing homes we have in Jersey. All they do to check is someone is dead is move their head and check the pulse, then they sign a paper. After that the police can come and check over."

For Frances, the hardest part of the work in South Africa was not being able to connect with some of the 'casualties.' "There was one person I couldn't deal with because I was scared to get out the front of the ambulance. They had been knocked over by a car and were slightly intoxicated.

"As part of my first aid training, I have worked with people with individual needs and we had casualties who needed that. It was quite nice to be able to relate to them like that. There was also quite an interesting time when a mother just handed me her baby to look after. She didn't look at the paramedics, because I am white and British, it must have been a shock for her to see me in the ambulance. Yet she trusted me to look after her baby."

Pictured: Frances says she will definitely visit the ambulance crew again.

The experience as a whole was very positive for Frances. She says it made her see how fortunate she, and all islanders, are to have the services available in Jersey. "We are just so lucky to have the ambulance service we have and the A&E. People in Jersey might wait two or three hours in A&E. In South Africa, they can wait up to 24 hours. There is no café, nothing in the hospital. They have to take everything with them, otherwise they are without food while they wait."

Although she is now in India and will soon travel to Thailand before making her way back to Jersey, Frances says she will definitely be back to South Africa to visit the crew. Following her time with them, one of the crew members praised the young woman in a Facebook post. She wrote: "We had the privilege to have had this young lady as our ride along. Stay the kind, wonderful, energetic, amazing and most of all crazy person that you are. You have the right passion, skills, spirit, attitude to become the best Paramedic in Jersey. Safe travelling, hope to see you soon."

Frances said: "They were all lovely and friendly. I'm still in contact with them over here [in India]. They are checking I'm safe. They have also given me a jacket and a grab bag to take back to Jersey. It was an amazing experience, I've promised I will be back."


 

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