I love the old word, vanguard. It doesn’t seem to get a lot of use today but it means an advanced guard and is derived from the French avant-guard. It is the frontline of a military formation that leads the way, seeks out the enemy and makes it safe for others to follow.
Thomas à Kempis puts it beautifully in the Imitation of Christ:
Up, then, my brothers! Let us go forward together! Jesus will be with us. For Jesus’ sake, we have taken up the cross; for Jesus’ sake, let us persevere in it. He will be our helper, who is also our leader; he has gone before us. See, our King advances in the vanguard, and will fight for us! Let us follow like men: no terrors shall daunt us.
Working in the Ambulance Service
I have been working in the Ambulance Service for a year, having come into it from working in acute mental health. Working for an Ambulance Service is completely unique. Every day, every shift is different, you never know what your next call is going to bring or how it will stretch and strain you. There is an investment in each job you do that is not just physical, but mental and emotional too, and if you are not careful it can take its toll.
To some degree the training helps to prepare you, it’s intense. The first four weeks I seemed to have a constant headache, trying to remember the high-way code, memorising road signs, road law and legal exemptions when driving on blue lights. Then there are the driving assessments, exams, weeks of clinical training, more exams and practical assessments. It’s not for the faint of heart!
For the last 3 months the nature of the job has changed. All of a sudden we are dealing with a new illness, for which there was no training or preparation. Covid-19. Sure, we were all aware of Infection Control Procedures, but except for the rare cases where we donned extra PPE (personal protection equipment), we only had to wear gloves for each patient and clean our equipment after each use. Now, with each suspected case we were donning full Tyvec suits with masks and goggles as well as taking vehicles off the road for an hour or more to deep clean. I even lost my beard of 40 years so that the mask would seal properly. It seemed that there were daily changes when admitting patients into hospitals too.
There were so many questions being asked, many of them arising from fear. The words ‘scary’ and ‘terrible’ were being thrown around like confetti and some people seemed to be falling apart. The Ambulance Service, like other health care sectors, was struggling for adequate supplies of PPE.
It was almost inevitable that I would contract the virus and in early April I did. About a week previously, I had undertaken a high acuity transfer of a coronary care patient from one hospital to another. ‘No COVID present on the ward,’ I had been assured, only to find on return that a patient in the opposite bed had tested positive. At 3am on the Saturday before the Easter weekend I woke up feeling rough and running a temperature of 38.5. The next 4 days I spent in bed, feverish, lethargic and lacking in appetite, taking paracetamol and drinking lots of water. When so many around seemed to be suffering so much worse I am grateful that that was the sum of my symptoms and following a positive test and a week of rest I was back in work.
God is in control
During this crisis I can honestly say that I never once felt fearful. I was saddened at the loss of so many, but never concerned for myself. Many refer to us as ‘frontline workers’ along with other health care professionals, but it’s not a turn of phrase that I would ever claim for myself, because there has always been someone in front of me. As a Christian I have full assurance that my God is in the vanguard. I read of the promises contained in the Bible and I see them fulfilled. Is this virus, a mere 0.06 to 0.14 microns, a match for the one who flung stars into space and named them one by one? Is it even an equal to him who has weighed the universe in his palm? Of course not, never!
Each morning that I drive that 45 minutes to the ambulance station, I pray for the day ahead. I pray that I might bring glory to God, in word, thought and deed. I thank God that his mercies are new to me every morning. I thank God that his grace is sufficient for all situations that I might encounter, whether it is people dying and in desperate need, or patients that are aggressive because of drink or drugs. Because God has unconditionally loved me and accepted me, it means that I can care for and accept those who need me, even the aggressive ones.
Sometimes I get to pray for patients, sometimes I hum a hymn, or hold a hand and I can see the difference that can make. More often than not it’s just doing the job I’m trained to do, not as a hero, but as a humble servant of Christ. The Thursday evening applause has been appreciated. The gifts of goodwill left on the windscreen or at the station have kept morale up. But there is nothing quite like the applause of heaven and to hear the Father’s voice saying, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’