Saturday, May 08, 2021

A child will nearly always try to return a smile, no matter what the circumstances. The children really are our precious cargo.

BUMBLEance is the official Children’s National Ambulance Service and it is the first service of its kind in the world. While many may have seen the distinctive yellow ambulance travelling, it’s quite likely that many people will not know of the precious cargo on board. Each call is a scheduled call bringing children on a journey to and from hospital. It is also likely that the BUMBLEance on a given day is on a special “angel trip”, which brings terminally ill children home to their families.

Since last August, Tramore born Aine Phelan has been a paramedic for BUMBLEance, responding to their need to expand into the South East due to increased demand.

Aine told me, “It’s a real privilege to work closely with children and their families and to give them as much comfort and support as we can on their journey to and from hospital.”

This comfort and support is offered in many ways, initially through offering distraction through entertainment. On board each BUMBLEance is a tv, wifi, an iPad, Netflix, headphones, games consoles, games and books. The interior is brightly coloured and cheerful and for many children, a trip with Aine will be a regular event so keeping their spirits high is imperative.

It seems that Aine had been preparing for this her entire life, knowing as soon as she was old enough, that she wanted to join the Order of Malta in Tramore. This was just around the corner from her family home growing up and Aine’s Dad had been a member of the Waterford unit in his younger years. Her parents spoke a lot to the Phelan family about the Order of Malta because above all else, they felt that first aid skills were life skills.

The Tramore unit saw many who passed through its doors become paramedics, nurses and doctors in Ireland, the UK and further afield. In particular, it was Nurse Ann Flynn and Paddy Godfrey who were, Aine said, “instrumental in providing a 24-hour ambulance service to the community, which continued for decades due to the voluntary commitment of members.” They were an incredibly important sounding board for Aine, as was John Kelly, who was Officer in Charge. He encouraged Aine to become an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) when there were very few qualified EMT’s in Ireland. This was an important step on Aine’s journey to qualifying as a paramedic. She has been based in ambulance stations from Castletownbere right across to Waterford City.

With Aine’s mum being a pharmacist in Tramore, and her late dad being an office manager in Clover Meats, there was both a caring and a practical element to her family home. This fed heavily into Aine’s career decisions, particularly with BUMBLEance.

“Every day on every call, I see the difference our service makes to these families. It allows the parents or guardian to focus on the child and it takes away the stress of driving at what is a very emotional time for families.

“It’s very difficult not to be moved by the children we look after. A child will nearly always try to return a smile, no matter what the circumstances. The children really are our precious cargo. I suppose at the end of the day, we are all human and the day when it doesn’t affect you as a paramedic, there is something wrong, I think.”

Aine’s entire life has been shaped by care and love, and she advocates for the role of a paramedic, for the reality that each day brings a new challenge or experience.

“It’s hard to describe the feeling of saving a life or delivering a baby on the side of the road. There are so many highs and, of course, many lows. Paramedics deal with patients when they are at the most vulnerable time of their lives.”

She credits her parents for the enormously positive impact they had on her life, noting from a young age that she, along with her three sisters and two brothers, were encouraged to give back to the community through any possible means. For the Phelan family, that meant helping in the pharmacy, and in Aine’s case, providing first aid cover at Mass, on the beach and at the Tramore races. The family all ended up working with people, as Aine’s younger sisters are school teachers and her older siblings are all involved in the pharmacy business.

The coastline of Waterford was of utmost important to Aine’s late Dad, believing that early morning was the best time of the day in Tramore. This has fed through to Aine and she can often be found taking photographs of an early morning sunrise over Tramore Bay or exploring the coastline on a quest for beauty and history. The love of photography has remained with Aine for her entire life, from when her brothers would develop and print old photographs, to when she was surrounded by photography in the pharmacy growing up. Her memories were shaped by the memories of others, developing all around her.

“We spent what seemed like endless days on Tramore strand and in the Pier surrounded by our aunts, uncles and cousins when we were growing up. My grandmother Nancy Hogan lived next door to us, she was raised in South Africa and she was a wonderful cook. We loved being taught how to bake and cook in her kitchen which was always full of the smells of baking and exotic spices.”

The BUMBLEance is on the road in the South East four to five times a week at the moment due to current demand and Aine would always appreciate a wave as she continues on her important journey carrying very important passengers.

In conversation with Dymphna Nugent

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