Caring era has ended

IT is 42 years since Neil Harrop joined the ambulance service at Swan Hill.

Paramedic Neil Harrop has retired from Ambulance Victoria after 42 years' service.

Paramedic Neil Harrop has retired from Ambulance Victoria after 42 years' service.

On Wednesday he completed his last day of work as a paramedic at the Kerang branch of Ambulance Victoria, where he has worked for 40 of those years.

"It was probably in the genetics to end up in this role," he says.

"Mum was the relieving matron at Robinvale for many years and she used to always come home and talk about things. My brother's a MICA paramedic in Melbourne. We're all in that caring role."

But it was a situation he found himself while travelling as a 20-year-old that led him to pursuing the career that he did.

"I witnessed a particularly horrific accident, an industrial accident on a farm in New Zealand." 

"He got his head crushed between a forklift and a big beam and had a massive head injury." 

"The (man's) wife and I were it - the ones who had to do something. I basically had to pick him up and put him in the back of the car. He survived but he was never the same again."

"After that I thought I had an interest in the ambulance service. In those days you could walk in off the street, and I said to the then superintendent, 'Look, I would really like a position as an ambulance officer,' and he said, 'When can you start?'"

"Now it's a bachelor of paramedicine, and the knowledge base is quite astounding, but it used to be basically like an apprenticeship course."

For the first 10 years he was in the job, equipment and training in the service was fairly basic, Neil says.

"The stretchers in the car were only canvas, without undercarriage. There was an oxygen bottle, there was a first aid kit, there were some splints and there was not much else, and a lot of treatment in those days was to get the person in the car and get them to hospital as soon as possible, where they could be treated."

Pain relief was a dry cleaning agent called Trilene that was inhaled through the nose.

In the mid-eighties ambulance crews got access to Penthrane, known as "the green whistle" or "green stick", which made a big difference to patients, Neil says.

Then in 1989, cardiac monitors were provided, so patients could be defibrillated when necessary.

"For the last 20 years we've had advanced life support skills, which allowed us to give morphine and do lots of other procedures that make for a good outcome for the patient," he says.

Neil lists as the highlights of his career the many cases where people have survived through his intervention, and the capacity of ambulance officers to improve patients' condition and provide "decent pain relief."

He said that paramedics can now use a number of pain-relief medications. 

Life on a country Ambulance Victoria branch is fairly constant, officer Harrop said, and says it is hard with a young family because officers are always on call and miss some important events. 

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