“Being held hostage for 6 hours” – The lives of two paramedics

"Being held hostage for 6 hours" - The lives of two paramedics
"When digging a bit deeper in their pasts, over the years, in the quest to save lives, they admit they have faced hair-raising situations."

You are aware of the dangers these medical professionals hold, and for the most part, you know they deal with an innate amount of stress. But after chatting with Sifiso Zwane and Debbie Gafney of KwaZulu Private Ambulance, your outlook on what they endure and their strength of character will forever be changed.

As the base manager for KZN Private Ambulance, Zwane explains that his whole outlook on EMS changed dramatically after joining the sector. “When I saw the challenges EMS faces, I realised that people look up to us; we become heroes in a sense, as people depend on us, they have faith in us. They might not always realise the role we play, but in a time of an emergency, they respect us.”

Additionally, Gafney explains how a career in this sector evolves a person, “EMS certainly teaches you to think on your feet, as you find not everything can be learned from a textbook.” This, she explains, sees EMS personnel transforming into stronger individuals in order to save a life.

Even though more emotionally robust than the average person, these individuals still feel the weight of their days and nights, “EMS is something you are born to do. But it does take a toll on you psychologically, but at our base, we have worked out a system where we always have each other’s backs. Our lives have become so intertwined, we have become family. We discuss bad scenes with each other, offer support. Unfortunately, we live in a time where there is little respect for healthcare workers, so we need to take care of each other,” states Gafney.

And when digging a bit deeper in their pasts, over the years, in the quest to save lives, they admit they have faced hair-raising situations. Gafney highlights one of her most complex cases. “I was held hostage in KwaMashu, during the apartheid faction fighting, where a man was shot and killed. His friends demanded we perform CPR on him, as they had seen on television CPR works.” This saw her sit for six hours, a gun pressed up against her, forced to try and save an individual’s life, who had long since passed on, before the police came to her and her team’s rescue.

For Zwane, a moment that sits with him occurred in Madadeni, Section 7. “A bus drove over a woman’s legs, crushing them. When we got to the scene, family members had thrown a blanket over her, and when we removed it, we saw how bad it was.” Despite working relentlessly to try and assist her, she succumbed to her injuries. Again, leaving Zwane and his team relying on each other for moral support.

Through these difficult situations, have they ever considered quitting? Zwane exclaims, “Hell no! I love my job; I wake up in the morning, already strategising for the day. I know how vital we are; people need us.”
Gafney concurs, “I have never thought of giving up. I could have died many times. I am here for the people.”

But if they had not pursued a career in this ever-enduring avenue, what would they have chosen to become? Gafney says she would have become a vet as she loves animals, while Zwane states he would have become a businessman or joined the agriculture sector.

Concluding, the two believe the community should be aware of pressing issues they have seen taking place in town. For Gafney, it is parents allowing their children to stand on the backseats of vehicles. “If you are involved in an incident, even if it someone drives into the back of your car, your child becomes a projectile. I have seen 22 cases where a child has gone from the backseat through the windscreen. It is not a child’s fault, and you need to ensure your youngster is sitting and has a safety belt on.”

With winter setting in, Zwane feels people need to be aware of treating burns. Especially when looking at fires at home and treating burn wounds where boiling water is involved.  “Don’t try to treat a burn wound with butter or eggs, as some people do. Instead, run cool water, not cold water, on the burn and call the ambulance.”

These two form part of a world involving passionate people who deal with horrors most will only see in movies. Yet every day, they, with love, get up to assist you in your time of need. So let us show our appreciation to these local heroes by giving them the respect and manners they deserve.

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