Heroes of Mumbai: Ambulance drivers battle Mumbai traffic to save one life at a time!
In our ongoing series 'Heroes of Mumbai,' today we showcase the story of Maurice Lobo, who has been driving an ambulance for over three decades to give the needy and helpful a fresh lease of life and live once again
Maurice Xavier Lobo, a resident of Andheri, has been working as an ambulance driver for 33 years now. Maurice has been driving the ambulance since 1986 for Holy Spirit Hospital, Andheri. Maurice never wanted to become an ambulance driver but destiny had other plans for him. Before driving an ambulance, Maurice drove luxury buses around from Mumbai to Bangalore, Goa and more. The long journey as a bus driver made Maurice tired and restless but he soon got his calling which he would cherish for life. It was one of those days while driving when he received a call from the head sister of Holy Spirit Hospital and since then, as they say, the rest is history!
So, what are the challenges that an ambulance driver faces?
Maurice explains, "I like driving the ambulance. If because of me driving, a patient's life is saved then that makes me really happy. I believe that saving someone's life is a noble cause; driving an ambulance is a challenging job because it isn't easy to ferry a patient to the hospital. It is very difficult and risky instead. The biggest challenge that we face while picking up a patient in societies or buildings, is parking space on both sides. Due to this, it is difficult for us to manoeuvre the van right to the pickup spot of the patient. At times we park the ambulance outside the society and pick the patient from whichever floor of the building they reside and bring them to the ambulance. It isn't easy to transport patients from high-rise buildings right to the ambulance. But this is what our job is all about and if we want to serve such people, we have to accept the challenges and overcome it. Saving a life is our duty and whatever we do as drivers, we give our best."
The biggest challenge that an ambulance driver faces is that of moving quickly through the slow-paced Mumbai traffic. From bikers to car drivers and auto rickshaws; none of them make way for the ambulance despite the siren or honking. With vehicles parked on either side of the roads manoeuvring through the tiny and narrow lanes becomes a mammoth task for us. From jumping signals to driving onto the wrong side of the road in order to reach the hospital, early are few of the risks that an ambulance driver has to take.
Back in the day ambulance drivers didn't require prior experience or qualification but Maurice says that it has changed over the years. Today, in order to become an ambulance driver, one needs to have at least 10 years of driving experience along with a minimum educational qualification of SSC degree.
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So, how do you manage to drive through the bustling traffic of Mumbai? What threat does traffic and the public at large pose for you as an ambulance driver?
There are various challenges when it comes to traffic while we ferry patients to and fro from the hospital. Due to major traffic, even a kilometre would take 20-25 minutes, but we have to use our experience as well as presence of mind to get through traffic to get the patient to the hospital in time. Honking or using the siren does help at times. But when the traffic does not move, we take the risk of driving onto the wrong side of the road, although it is illegal, as we are also putting some one else's life in danger. But at the time, our only aim is to make sure that we reach the patient in time to the casualty ward.
Have you ever encountered a bad experience with any passenger/patient?
Many a times, patients get furious at us due to driving through bumpy roads as it becomes uncomfortable for them, but we have to look at it from all ends. Firstly, we have to reach the patient in time to the hospital. Secondly, it is how we manage to drive through potholes as there are many in the city. Thirdly, is to balance the fact that we drive with safety so the patient is not in pain as well as do not disrupt traffic.
Can you recall any day in the 33 years of your career when your driving skills came in handy to save a patient's life?
Once, a patient had a cardiac arrest and was lying just a kilometre away from the hospital with no help nor support. His own family left him as he was saying that it was the last stage. However, we informed the family that we must take him to the hospital and proceeded with it. Little did we know that there was huge traffic awaiting us with cars parked on both sides as well. We opted to drive the ambulance onto the wrong side of the road and managed to reach the patient in time to the hospital. We were overjoyed when heard that we managed to save the patient's life. Upon regaining conciousness, his joy knew no bounds and he thanked us for the same.
Maurice starts his day at 6 am in the morning and winds up at 2 pm in the afternoon. Being an ambulance driver, Maurice always has to be on his toes and ready for any emergency situations. He, along with other drivers, make sure that they attend to the call of saving a life. On a daily basis, Maurice ferries around 4 to 5 patients to the hospital. And the job is so demanding that if the hospital receives a call, the ambulance team must ensure it arrives at the area to pick up the patient at the earliest. Besides moving through traffic, ambulance drivers are also met with abusive and errant drivers.
Being an ambulance driver how important it is to take care of your own health in order to save a patient's life?
It is extremely important to take care of one's own health because if we aren't fit and healthy then how can we help others or even save lives for that matter? The biggest skillset that an ambulance driver possesses is that of a sound ear and strong eyesight. If we maintain both only then will we be able to hear and see of what's happening around. An ambulance driver must be well aware of his surroundings and able to tackle situations with timely decisions made.
What is your message to the citizens of Mumbai?
My only appeal to the citizens is that when you hear the siren of an ambulance or see an ambulance approaching fast, kindly make way or move to one side of the road in order for us to work efficiently. It is only because of smooth operations and efficiency that we are able to save the life of a patient.
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