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Alvina Brauhauser is hot on the wheels to save lives

By JAMES MWANGI | August 3rd 2013


A siren-blazing ambulance tries to find way its way in a thicket of traffic jam as it rushes a patient to hospital. The knack with which the crew navigates out of the gridlock amazes; but more outstanding is the person behind the wheels.

Meet Alvina Brauhauser, an outstanding ambulance driver-cum-paramedic with Kenya Red Cross.

Unlike her fellow ambulance drivers, otherwise known as operators, Alvina, 31, has trained as emergency medical technician thus doubling as an operator and paramedic.

Her expertise is unique as almost all ambulance operators in the country specialise in delivery only.

She has cut a niche in the male dominated area, commanding remarkable admiration from her workmates and members of the public she encounters.

Impressed uhuru

 “I love this job and I am happy my male colleagues respect and motivate me to soldier on despite the challenges,” says Alvina.

Last month, she won praises from workmates after orienting an excited President Uhuru Kenyatta the operations and equipment of a modern, well-kitted ambulance at State House as high-profile delegation watched in awe.

And as we meet for this interview one chilly Monday morning at the organisation’s headquarters in South C, her infectious smile is unmistakable as she acquaints me with vital equipment of a mesmerising ambulance. “Apart from the basic operations of the van, I always make sure the paramedic’s compartment is disinfected, all life-saving equipment are in working condition and there’s sufficient drugs on hand,” she explains.

She is so on top of her game; she can rush to an accident scene, manage an emergency case by stablising the patient before rushing them to hospital.

She stresses that in critical emergencies, the time between evacuation and hospital — Golden Hour — means a lot to the patient’s survival. “The maximum response time for an emergency should be ten minutes,” she says. For a patient who is not breathing, this time is enough to irreversibly damage their brain.

We are barely 30 minutes into the interview when she and her paramedic are dispatched to pick and rush to  hospital an ailing child at Athi River.  Time and speed is of essence as I join them. We set off as she sets the siren on.

“You see, we can’t tell how critical the patient is so as to determine how swift I should drive. In such a situation, we must apply the rule of ‘index of suspicion’ whereby if the patient is unresponsive and we have no full information on their problem, we think quickly and decide the stabilisation and evacuation speed,” she explains.

Within no time, we arrive at the home of the little girl, barely three years old, who is now unconscious.

I watch in amazement as Alvina  stabilises her then gently places her on the ambulance bed, and speeds off.  For sure, this job is not for the faint-hearted as the mother of two has found out in the last three years she has been in the profession.

Naughty drivers

“There are motorists who will block your way and even hurl insults at you thinking you are evading traffic jam. Others will try to hit on you just because you are an attractive woman,” she says.

She adds: “Some naughty men even ask for my contacts. But I always politely turn down their offers and focus on the job at hand. I, however, hate it when other motorists tailgate me. This is extremely dangerous to us and the patient(s) on board.”

Society always judges her harshly because they assume she is in the wrong profession. But she takes it in her stride. While on duty, sometimes she becomes a spectacle — especially the outskirts of Nairobi — as people throng to catch  a glimpse of her.

She recalls an interesting incident: “One day, I was with a female colleague on a rescue mission and as we pulled over a town outside Nairobi, a group of curious onlookers gathered around us chatting in low tones. It’s like they could not believe I am an ambulance operator and a paramedic.”

True to this, as we snaked through traffic heading towards Athi River, it was apparent the pedestrians and motorists were awed by her and her dexterity, with some shouting to draw her attention.

“I am used to such curious stares from the public. But I always focus on the job at hand,” she says.

She admits that when the siren is on, her adrenaline rises and this is a trying moment that requires discipline and concentration.

At times, some patients perceive it an indicator of their critical condition and so she must assure them that all will be well.

And what is her most challenging assignment? The 2011 Mukuru Sinai fire that killed tens of people, and last year’s Eastleigh’s matatu explosion.

“We were the first to arrive at Sinai and the sight and wailing we met was distressing. Every victim wanted to be attended to,” she  recalls.

And when it comes to siren usage, she says it is not just a matter of pushing the button on.

Siren usage

“I took an oath, so I don’t misuse the siren at all because this is unnecessary distraction to other motorists. I use it when necessary,” she says.

She explains what the different siren codes mean: “Lights on but siren off (code 2) indicates the patient is stable but lights and siren on (code 3) accompanied with high speed signifies acute patient aboard. I wish all motorists knew what it means getting critical patients to hospital instantly.”

Any accidents she has been involved in with the ambulance?

Alvina is so vigilant and disciplined at her job that since joining the career, she has never had an accident in the line of duty, not even the slightest despite the speeding and maneuverings the job entails.

Challenges aside, what are some of the incidences she handled remarkably well?

Her swiftest rescue was a car accident at the then Museum roundabout. From South C to the scene of accident, she took ten minutes and was able to attend to the severely injured driver while still stuck in the ill-fated car for one hour as fire fighters dismantled it to save him.

He later recovered fully. In another accident, it took her two minutes from South C to Bunyala Road.

She says, “I feel fulfilled when I successfully rescue my patient. But when they don’t make it — especially while in my care — it breaks my heart.”


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