All In A Day's Work

All In A Day’s Work

By Joannebarbarella


This is a tribute to someone who did not even know she was a heroine (and probably still doesn’t). She’s a member of our sorority here at BC. I have not sought her permission to publish this piece as it can be construed as fiction, and probably much of it is, but I hope she likes it. I think she may recognize herself.

This might also qualify for Dorothy’s Challenge

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In those days they called her Big Pete. This was when she was an ambulance man or at least appeared to be. Most people have no idea what those people go through.

You had to study for a couple of years to become an emergency medical technician, or an ambulance man. They taught you all the theory but they couldn’t teach you the reality. Nobody could show you the blood and guts that you would actually encounter. Only experience would teach you what that was like.

So she graduated and the world saw this big tough guy who was the epitome of the men who operated the ambulances that responded to all kind of emergencies, traffic accidents, fight-related incidents, and all the rest. Only those who worked with him saw the kind and gentle person inside and most of them did not quite know how to respond to that person. They did not realize she was female. Actually neither did she.

The crises she saw are too numerous to narrate in one story, so here are a few to let you all know what it’s like to be on the sharp end, particularly if you know that you are not who you seem to be but have no idea what to do about it.

So you’re cruising in your ambulance with a driver and a partner and you get a call to a pub in Oxford Street. Everybody in Sydney knows what that means. It’s the heart of the gay district. You arrive to find a young girl unconscious on the floor of the bar and a number of people trying to restrain a vicious drunk who is attempting to kick the shit out of her as she lays helpless. You try to ignore him while you tend to her and assess her injuries. It’s pretty obvious that she has been badly beaten and will require hospitalisation.

The drunk gets away from the bystanders trying to hold him back and tries to resume his attack.

You push him away from the girl.

“What’s your fucking problem, mate?”

“She’s a fucking bloke.”

“Well, this *IS* Oxford Street. What do you expect?”

He tries to get at her again, so you flatten him with a single hit and then turn your attention back to the girl lying on the floor. Your ambo mate brings the stretcher over and together you lift her on to it as tenderly as you can and take her out to the waiting ambulance to transfer her to Saint Vinnies.

Just another incident…..all in a day’s work.

Forget about the innumerable Saturday nights when you have to go to some accident or incident and pick up the pieces. That’s normal. Drunks and druggies, the ever-present punch-ups, the odd stabbing or shooting. You can turn your mind off when dealing with those. Many times those you are trying to help turn and attack you or your partner or their mates do. Sometimes the cops are there to help you out but not always, so you become inured to having to defend yourself too. All in a day’s work.

It’s the big ones that get to you. There was the nursing home fire. You got the call and raced to the scene. The building was well and truly alight and you and your crew got there before the cops and the firies. None of you hesitate. It’s into the burning building and looking for the old folk inside. Between you, you manage to carry out half a dozen before the other emergency services get there. More ambulances arrive. You should have taken the ones you have saved to the hospitals but those who arrived later did that and you kept going back inside to try and rescue more until the firemen and the police physically restrained you.

Fifteen died that night. If it wasn’t for you and your mates it might have been thirty. Did you get any thanks for it? No. All in a day’s work. You went home, sobbed your heart out and eventually cried yourself to sleep. Your wife said you were a big baby. Real men don’t cry.

More routine every-day disasters, year on year. The little ones just gradually wore at your soul, a bit at a time, so you didn’t really notice them, but they did come back in dreams. They always came back in dreams. To make it worse, your wife never seemed to get it. When you screamed and wept in your sleep she just got annoyed because you woke her up. What was such a big deal about riding around in an ambulance?

Then came the really big one, the one that finally broke you. A train derailed and took out the pillar that was supporting a bridge which passed over the track. The bridge collapsed onto the train and crushed a couple of carriages crammed with commuters on their way to work. The incident later became known as the Granville Train Disaster.

You and your ambo mates got called out to deal with the aftermath. To call it a mess was a vast understatement. Even access was a nightmare. Try to imagine two railway carriages crushed under a collapsed bridge. For twenty four hours you fought to get the victims out and to transfer them to hospitals for treatment, but in all too many cases you pulled on an arm or a leg that was no longer attached to the rest of its body. You lost count of the number of times that you threw up.

But you kept working, and every now and then you found one who was still alive. The railway men and other emergency workers stayed with you and helped in lifting pieces of crushed metal and concrete from those who were trapped. They cried and spewed along with you. This was a piece of hell. In the end you collapsed, exhausted, and were carted off in one of your own ambulances. Your mates said you were raving about being able to save more when you couldn’t even stand.

The final toll was eighty-two dead, and the authorities said two hundred and ten injured, but they did not include those like you who had cleaned up after the catastrophe, pulling out the dead and injured. Your injuries were not physical, but were nevertheless just as real. Any military veteran would have received better treatment than you did, but it was all in a day’s work, wasn’t it?

The nightmares started coming longer and harder and didn’t go away. Every night was punctuated with crying jags. You awoke sweating and in tears. Your wife was much less than sympathetic. Real men don’t have nightmares and don’t cry all the time. You must be some kind of sissy. She actually didn’t realize, and nor did you, just how close to the truth she was. You took to sleeping in another bedroom.

You tried to go back to work but you were useless. Every minor incident would leave you a quivering wreck. Your workmates looked after you as well as they could but they still had work to do and you were just getting in their way. You were sent to the Medical Officer, who said you were just suffering from stress and it would pass. You were given anti-depressant pills for the days and sleeping pills for the nights and told to take two weeks leave.

None of that worked. You couldn’t stand being at home with your wife and she couldn’t stand you being there. The pills seemed to have little effect. You were like a zombie during the days and the sleeping pills just plain didn’t work. The nightmares kept on coming.

You went back to work with much relief, just to get away from a woman you were coming to hate. You had never hated anyone in your life and those who knew you best said you cared too much. That was a blessing but also a curse. It was why you were good at your job, but it was also why you hurt so much inside when you thought you had failed. This time around you just couldn’t cope.

They sent you to see a psychiatrist, who also told you it was only stress and it would pass. Here, take these pills. This made your wife even worse. She complained to all who would listen that she was married to a nut-case who couldn’t hold down his job and was spaced out most of the time.

After several months it was gently suggested that you resign. You were actually now old enough to get a severance payment, long service leave and a pension. You loved your job but realized that you were now a liability so you reluctantly accepted retrenchment. You also decided that you had had enough of your bitch of a wife so you told her the house was hers and you were off.

You decided that a change of scenery would be good for you so you moved to Queensland and got yourself a little flat in Surfers’ Paradise. That seemed to work for a while although the dreams and night-sweats didn’t disappear. Casual work was fairly easy to come by and although you didn’t really need to work you still liked to feel useful. That was fine until one day you witnessed a car and motorcycle crash. Old habits kicked in and you rushed to help. Suddenly all the nightmares became daymares and you suffered a complete mental blackout, becoming a casualty yourself.

When you awoke you were in hospital, in a mental ward, no less, and drugged to the eyeballs to keep you tranquillized. After a few days they lowered your dosage and you were compos mentis again. Of course they sent a psychiatrist around to see you to try and determine what happened to cause your melt-down. For a change this one was a fortyish woman who listened and she extracted your story from you bit by bit.

You opened up to her and told her of your years as an ambo and the tragedies and disasters that you had witnessed and attended. She listened and asked you questions about your emotions and feelings. Maybe it was partly still the effects of the drugs but you showed more of your tender nature than you had ever shown to anyone since you were a child.

After a week of daily conversations she grasped your hand one day.

“I think I know what’s wrong with you,” she said. “I think you’re really a woman!”

It was as if you had been hit by a bolt of lightning. Things fell into place and made sense. The care you had lavished on the victims who you had helped or tried to help was like a mother’s love. They had all been, in a way, your children. It was your feminine nature that had pointed you to become an ambulance man. In a different time and in a different body you would have been a nurse.

“I’ll need to do a few more evaluations and tests, if you’re willing, and then we can work on fixing the problem.”

Finally someone understood you and you were more than happy to continue exploring this radical new idea. The lady organized further medical examinations and a week later you were released from the hospital, no longer considered a danger to yourself, besides, they needed the bed.

The sessions with the psychiatrist continued on a weekly basis and after the clinical results came in you were declared fit for further treatment. Those conversations also convinced you that she was right and that you were actually and should always have been a woman. All these years you had been in denial, had pushed your innate femininity down to the depths of your sub-conscious.

The acceptance of the diagnosis partially relieved the dreams and nightmares. They still came but were somehow more controllable and lost some of their power.

After a few more sessions she offered you a way forward.

“I can put you on female hormones. They will have physical effects on your body. Even at your age you will develop breasts and get smoother skin, but they will also have mental effects. At first you will experience mood swings, but I don’t think that will necessarily be a bad thing. They will help you to get rid of emotions that you have held back for many years. I doubt that your nightmares will ever go away completely but we can certainly ameliorate them. It’s up to you but I recommend that you take them.”

It didn’t take you but a moment to agree.

“If you do decide to transition I have to warn you. I believe your mental health will benefit considerably, but with your physical build and appearance you will probably never be able to convincingly pass as a woman.”

“I don’t care. Let’s do it.” You said.

And so you started on an irreversible course. It wasn’t instantaneous, but, with the help of your psychiatrist you made many friends along the way and became that person that you should always have been.

At 75 you became maybe Australia’s oldest transsexual and you are now finally at peace with yourself. Maybe you still have the occasional nightmare but I know they are nothing like as frequent and you have many people who love you. They don't care that you look mannish because they can see your soul.



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