IT was pouring down with rain when paramedic Craig Northmore (40) attended the accident scene that will haunt him for the rest of his life.

“It was a horrific scene,” he recalls.
One of his colleagues was involved in an accident while he was driving in an ambulance, and, as fate would have it, Northmore was one of those who ended up at the scene.

“I was at an accident scene between two trucks and a vehicle that day. There were a whole lot of injuries – one boy’s legs were sticking out of the car. Then I got another call. I’ll never forget – one of my colleagues was involved in the other accident.
“He was a real amicable guy. When I arrived, I saw he was wedged in between the wreckage of the ambulance, but he was already dead, and I could not resuscitate him.

“This scene still lingers… It will stay with me forever…”

Northmore has experienced more than his “fair share” of gruelling accident scenes in his 19 years of being a paramedic, but one man’s nightmare is another’s destiny.
“While my friends played Cowboys and Indians, I was playing paramedic,” he laughs.
For someone who has convinced Death on more than one occasion to leave with a few rainchecks instead, the lion-hearted Northmore comes across as light-hearted, determined and humble.

The ER24, ICAS and Vincent Parlotti Hospital paramedic says he has saved “only” five people from certain death, yet he admits that he has resuscitated about 500 people.

It is even more curious when one hears he has only received three letters of compliment in his career.
“There was recently a survey when 8 000 people were asked 10 specific questions. It turned out that 98% of those questioned said the most important thing after a serious accident is that an ambulance arrive within five minutes, and 97% said the least important aspect is that the paramedics know how to do their job.
“I don’t think people actually know what we do.”

Northmore doesn’t, however, get out of bed at 05:30 to work an 11-hour shift 15 days a month for recognition.
“I get paid to do this,” he reasons.
Northmore says he tries to distance himself on an emotional level from the job at hand by treating his patients like mannequins, concentrating more on the injuries than the people injured so that he can carry out his work of saving lives unhindered.
There is a support system in place for most paramedics, through which they can undergo counselling or be referred to a psychologist, but Northmore says he copes with his experiences adequately.

He nonetheless dreams about his colleague’s death.
“I will see something in the dream that I never noticed before, and then try to save him accordingly,” continues Northmore.
Despite this recurring dream, Northmore is obviously in ample control of his mind and profession.
There are, of course, variables he cannot control, such as the weather, which makes aviation medicine the most dangerous – between five and eight days a month, he works on ER24’s helicopter, which sometimes flies into nigh-impossible nooks and crannies to get to an isolated patient.

Northmore only half-jokingly muses, “They say if you don’t like the weather in Cape Town, wait a minute.”
On the road there is another thing paramedics don’t have control over – fellow motorists who refuse to make way for an ambulance.
“Move left when you hear the sirens, don’t brake!” he pleads, before adding that valuable seconds are almost always lost when they respond to a call.

This is one of the main reasons every person should have an emergency service number saved on their phone – Northmore says people generally don’t know who to phone if they come across an unattended accident scene.
“Phone 084 124 immediately to reach the ER24 call centre,” he urges everybody.

American author Gretchen Rubin once said, “Don’t hesitate to praise people who get a lot of praise already.”
As Northmore doesn’t get the praise he deserves, perhaps baseball player Satchel Paige’s quote is more relevant: “Not to be cheered by praise, not to be grieved by blame, but to know thoroughly one’s own virtues or powers is the characteristic of an excellent man.”