By Aisha Hanif Akhai
‘Wee-woo- wee woo’, the siren of your ambulance blares. In the backseat, you can notice the accident victim, struggling with every passing moment, dropping in and out of consciousness. You wipe the sweat off your forehead, as you desperately try to weave your way through the thick traffic, which seems to be going on for miles, as if fading into the horizon. You keep honking the horn, hoping against hope, that you will be able to find a breakthrough, from the thick blanket of vehicles, that will allow you to rescue the now unconscious patient, and get him to the hospital, in time. You look behind your shoulder, to peek at the heart rate monitor – what you see is not a pretty sight, as it indicates a rate, constantly on the drop – much like your hopes of saving the patient. And then, just like that, the line on the monitor goes flat; the patient, lying stationary.
Another day, where a life succumbed to the helplessness of an ambulance, thanks, to the ever-increasing issues of traffic. A life, that could have been saved, with better management, awareness, empathy, efficiency and patience.
The aforementioned scenario might have been hypothetical in nature, but, it is one that is very relatable, especially for ambulances, and patients, who have had the unfortunate experience of being in an ambulance, in the city of Karachi. There are many causes and reasons, most of which are very addressable, that lead to traffic problems within the city, leading to severe consequences, one of which, as mentioned, is the inability of ambulances, carrying severely ill or injured persons, to reach hospitals in time, and, thus, costing precious lives.
According to DR Saeed Minhas, an associate professor of orthopedics at the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre, “Emergency services and trauma care is neglected all across the world. The lack of infrastructure, knowledge and initiative leave vast tracts of national highways, roadways, hazard zones unattended and under-served in the case of calamities, accidents and disasters.
A study was conducted, which aimed at assessing the outcomes as a result of hospital transfer and delays in trauma patients. This study had a sample size of 978 patients, and spanned across a time period of seven years (1998-2005). It was based on trauma patients presenting to the Aga Khan University Hospital, Karachi, meeting the trauma team activation criteria. Data was collected and entered into a Trauma Registry. The study focused on analyzing the outcomes of injury to delay in definitive treatment and survival.
The results of the study showed, that, out of the 978 patients, only 303 (30.9%), reached the Emergency Room (ER), within an hour. The mean time from injury occurrence to arrival in the ER, was an alarming 4.7 hours.
Long distances over which casualties may have to be transported to reach a medical facility in poorly maintained vehicles, the time taken for patients to reach hospitals and subsequent absence of appropriate equipment and supplies, besides skilled doctors, are some of the reasons behind the high mortality rate due to trauma.”
The main causes for traffic problems include roads that are too narrow to accommodate vehicles, the ever-existent construction works on roads, the existence of VIP culture, and last, but not the least, the eternal hurry and rush in which the people of the ‘city of lights’ find themselves, to reach nowhere.
The motorists and drivers in Karachi, furthermore, are known to be insensitive and callous, and fail to allow passage to emergency vehicles, such as firetrucks, police vans, or ambulances. Most of the motorists complain of the same ‘traffic issues’ as the cause of their denial of passage to ambulances.
However, no excuse is good, or valid enough, when a human life hangs in the balance. Thus, instead of banking on explanations and trying to justify our actions, we need to find, and identify ways through which we can help an ambulance, giving them the rights of passage, even when stuck in traffic. This essay will try and discuss, a few of those.
Firstly, MOVE TO THE LEFT. This is an instruction which, on the face of it, sounds simple, but, unfortunately, is not followed frequently, if at all. Almost all of us can testament to the drama of the reaction of the people, to an approaching ambulance. Instead of giving way, many people stare at the ambulance in complete and utter confusion, as if the blaring sirens of the ambulance give a message they find impossible to decipher, unable to realize the sensitivity of the situation at hand. A traffic controller, if present, does little to contribute; instead, he is just an addition to the extensive list of onlookers and spectators.
People struggle to understand that there is a life, if not multiple lives, at stake. However, this does not happen, primarily due to the awareness, or lack of it, amongst the people. Individuals need to be made mindful, that they should be moving to the left, as soon as they see an ambulance, approaching, or hear its siren, so that the right side can be made free for the ambulance to pass. If you cannot move to the left in a safe manner, simply, slow down, and allow the ambulance to overtake you. People who do not follow this rule should not simply be ignored or sidelined, but rather, informed, and, in some cases, even reported to the authorities.
Secondly, the traffic needs to be brought to a halt. The entire traffic should be stopped, on the left side, until the ambulance has passed through, and, no vehicle should be allowed to move, before that. DO NOT rush to the left side, but slowly and steadily make way for the ambulance. Panic will only result in adding the number of people in the ambulance, something that we do not want, at all.
In such a scenario, we should look out for people who try and use this as situation as an opportunity to overtake other drivers or vehicles. Also, look out for people who try to get behind the ambulance, to make a quick getaway. Such people should be noted, and reported to the traffic police. VIP vehicles should not be exempt either, and they should follow the rule, just like every other citizen. Driving is a privilege granted to you, but, living is a basic right. Do not rob anyone of his or her rights, by putting your privileges ahead of those rights. We cannot just put down the entire burden of responsibility on traffic authorities, as they are nothing but helpless, without the assistance of motorists. A responsible citizen is not only someone who looks to abide by rules, but, also, someone, who reports those who do not.
Most citizens are unaware about the law, which allows ambulances to break the traffic, as well as drive on the wrong side of the road. So, the next time you spot an ambulance behind you, do not think twice before jumping signals, and allowing the ambulance to pass through.
Often, motorists are tentative about jumping signals, fearing the fine that they might incur, consequently. However, the law permits you to break signals, if there is an emergency vehicle behind you. This is something that all drivers should be mindful of.
NEVER, EVER park in front of a parked ambulance. That is, perhaps, the worst thing you can do, as an owner or driver of a vehicle. Often, drivers park in front of ambulances, making it practically impossible for the ambulance driver to carry the patient(s), to the hospital.
If you spot an ambulance being trapped, owing to a parked vehicle, always ensure that such vehicles are reported to the authorities. Stern action should be taken against such irresponsible and careless drivers, and citizens.
To conclude, long term issues such as traffic problems, inadequate roads, and the existence and prevalence of VIP culture, are just that – long term, and, will take years to resolve. However, we, as citizens, should realize our duties, and our responsibilities towards fellow citizens, especially those who are fighting a battle to stay alive. We should use the aforementioned ‘hacks’, alongside other measures, and do whatever we can, to facilitate ambulances, and allow them to function in a smooth and efficient manner.