They tell you how it feels to be behind the wheels of an ambulance, racing against time and death. Breaking one-ways, jumping lanes, overtaking are all allowed as ambulance drivers.

Shaji has had a breathe-easy day at work so far. The ambulance driver at the District General Hospital had just two short-haul trips since he signed up for work at 8.45 a.m. “Both were labour cases with some complications. They were referred to another hospital and I had to hurry up with them,” says Shaji. He had to cut through the peak-hour morning city traffic maze to get the pregnant woman to the hospital before her condition worsened. It is a feat he does regularly. Willingly or not, they are the ones who occasionally help people.

As an ambulance driver, Shaji has spent the last five years racing along city roads trying to get critically ill patients safely into the hands of doctors. Even as he takes a break after making two quick runs, Shaji is prepared to receive the next emergency call to carry a patient to safety. “This is not like an office job where you work during fixed times. If there is an emergency, you have to put everything else aside and be there,” says Shaji. He is one among the many ambulance drivers in the city who speed along jam-packed roads to bring patients to the care of doctors. Even driving at speeds above 100 km/hr in heavy traffic, the drivers have to ensure that their driving does not endanger the lives of the patient or people on the road. What may seem like a thrilling ride for some is part of the job for ambulance drivers. “You cannot afford to panic or get excited. It doesn’t help being tensed when the patient is at a critical stage. You have to stay calm and think clearly,” says Shaji, who used to drive lorries before he became an ambulance driver.

Once they switch on the siren and flash the beacon, traffic rules do not apply to ambulances. Breaking one-ways, jumping lanes, overtaking are all allowed as drivers race against time to save lives. “Bus drivers are helpful. They always make way for ambulances. Some drivers of smaller vehicles are a nuisance. They roll up their windows and can’t hear the siren. They don’t give way and I have to be extra careful,” he says.

Aiding the drivers in their endeavour are the police, who try to clear up roads for ambulances. Jayaprakash, an ambulance driver in the city, recently covered around 180 km in the State in under three hours to deliver a liver for transplant. “I was driving at 120 km/hr in parts of the trip. Policemen along the way kept the roads clear of vehicles whenever they could,” he says.

The job of an ambulance driver also consists of quickly judging the patient’s condition and driving accordingly. “Some patients like those suffering from heart attacks have to be taken to the hospital as quickly as possible. Others, like those with spinal injury, have to be driven carefully so as to not injure them further. With training and experience, an ambulance driver learns these things,” says Prashant, an ambulance medical technician at the General Hospital.

Prashant feels that ambulance drivers don’t always get their due. He suggests that the government could try to ensure that ambulance drivers in private hospitals too are paid on par with those in government hospitals.

“It’s not like a regular job. There is a whole different mood inside an ambulance with a critically ill patient. Drivers who work under these conditions should be compensated well,” he says.

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