Ambulance drivers talk about day to day challenges they encounter.
Pune: As the city traffic comes to a halt in peak hours, a familiar unsettling sound creates ripples on the street. Some in the traffic try to move aside, some start honking to signal the vehicle in front to move and some remain as they are, not even acknowledging the siren of the ambulance behind them. The ambulance driver has to brave these obstacles and drive the ailing patient, with little time on his hands and lives at risk.
Balasaheb Hingane (57) has been driving a private ambulance to and from the Sassoon Hospital for the last 35 years. “I go home only on alternate days. Most of my life in the last 35 years has been spent here, waiting to attend an emergency call,” he said. Hingane is one of the many who have chosen to work as ambulance driver out of not only a need for employment but also a sense of duty. “What I do is also out of a sense of responsibility,” he added.
Hingane said the challenges in the profession are many. “We have at most a 20-minute window in which we have to take the patient to the hospital,” he said, adding, “We get calls from patients who find our number online, from the police or from social organisations. We immediately attend the request irrespective of what we are doing then. I do anywhere between 3-4 trips each day. Many a time on our calls, we ourselves have to help an injured person in an accident, a dying patient or a dead body. We are not just drivers in a sense but also the first responder to any emergency.”
Hingane remembers that when he first saw a body, he was disturbed and scared. “It doesn’t affect me much now. I recently drove a body for 1,800 kilometres to Odisha,” he said, adding, “I once took a patient who was discharged to Rajasthan. He was okay and talking to us normally all the way. When we reached his home, he just dropped dead in front of our eyes suddenly.”
Hingane has been a witness to many tragedies in his years of work. “I was one of the ambulance drivers when the German Bakery blasts happened. It was a shock to see those injured victims crying for help. I also was there when the Mandhradevi stampede happened,” he said, trying to recall, “When you see the victims in these tragedies, something shakes you from the inside.”
Hingane, who recently met with an accident on his two-wheeler and broke his ankle, said that he hasn’t met with an accident as an ambulance driver. “I have had a lot of close misses with certain death. But thankfully I never met with an accident,” Hingane said, adding, “I once drove a burns victim from Hadapsar to Ruby Hall in 7 minutes and that saved her life. That puts a lot of stress on your mind and body. Back pain and headaches are common to us.”
Abbas Inamdar (42) drives an ambulance to and from Sassoon Hospital for the last 22 years. “I once saw a father and a child lying on the road on the Satara-Pune Highway. No one had stopped to help them. I picked up the child and it took its last breath in my hands,” Inamdar recalled, adding, “I drove the injured father to Ruby Hall Clinic but he died too. It broke my heart to think that if I had been faster and if I had reached earlier, they could have been survived.”
“My wife calls me up every hour to inquire if I am okay,” Inamdar said and adding, “No matter how used to the stress and fear I get, the feeling of discomfort never goes away,” Inamdar said, adding, “I think to myself, ‘what am I doing?’ and then realise the importance of it and keep doing it anyway. People don’t move aside. Two-wheelers and auto drivers don’t even budge to our siren many times.”
“Many have fallen to vices due to the stress. The body demands complete attention and control and it takes a toll on you. I haven’t let myself fall into vices. I have relied on my skills and control to avoid any mishap,” Inamdar said, adding, “After driving under such stress for 12-14 hours, I don’t have much energy left for my own family. But saving lives is much more important and I will continue to do so.”