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The Volunteer

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He spent two years volunteering in ambulance crew, saving lives, confirming deaths and assisting in childbirths. When he received a thick envelope with the header 'Order For Merit to the Fatherland' he couldn't understand why was he given it. Only a couple of months later, he realized why, after a call from national TV with a proposal to participate in a documentary about heroes of our era and tell about the working days of a volunteer. 


Arman KASSYMOV is a volunteer indeed, but a patriot first of all. The young charismatic man's role model is unusual for his age mates - Dinmukhamed KUNAYEV, the Soviet leader of Kazakhstan. In his childhood he dreamed of curing people and ...

- To be a bomb technician in KazBat, smiles Arman. - Twelve years ago I saw our peacemeakers in Iraq on the news - their return to homeland and the way they were met in the airport. When I was 18 I met a man, Bolatbek Shatenov, who had been in the very first KazBat group to serve in Iraq. Once he had a debate with a Bolashak student who was claiming there was nothing to do in Kazakhstan. Bolatbek listened to the guy's opinion till the end and just asked him: what have you done for your country and people paying for your studies abroad? The student couldn't say a word in response. Then I asked the same to myself and shortly decided - I had to do something useful and couple of days later I joined an ambulance service.  

They accepted me to ambulance owing to my unfinished medical background - I studied in the Astrakhan Medical Academy. However, shortage in money didn't allow me continue my studies - as a foreign citizen I had to pay three-fold more than my coursemates did. After a year, I entered the Moscow Social Open Academy spending there another year and eventually switched to distance learning, because I had to earn money. I found a job in Kashagan: instead one working rotation I had two - 28 days on the island and 28 days in the ambulance. 


- When I applied to dispatchers they just laughed and advised me going to the chief doctor. And he said: Why not? We always need men in our work - to carry stretchers, boxes. By the way, not long ago an ambulance crew had been assaulted.                                                       - Drunken patient?
- Yes. It happens. Recently, a crazy lady patient bit my colleague Rabiga in face. It wasn't just a bite - her cheek was ripped. Often even adequate and sober people aggressively complain to us: "We've been waiting for two hours. Where have you been?!!!"
- But that's true. Myself once waited for doctors for almost 3.5 hours...
- I am sure it was in winter.                                                                                                         - Yes.
- I see. We have only 13 crews on shift, very few for the city, especially in winter, when many people suffer from SARS. Sometimes dispatch receives more than 600 calls a day. It happens that while a crew is treating a patient, three others are waiting in line. I should mention some odd calls as well: for example, a girl, dispatchers well knew her, got bored and wanted to talk to someone. She dialed '03'. We knew it was a 'false alarm', but we had to respond anyway. Or 'come shortly, my heart, heart,' moaning in phone. Someone is dying. When crew arrived at the address, nobody opened the door - we must be late - the old lady's passed away. Few minutes later, the easily walking 'old lady' arrived  - she had gone to the pharmacy to buy some pills. Can you imagine that we receive calls asking to help with constipation? It's comic, but, in fact, someone may die from this too. There are egoist patients as well. I was on shift the day the newly constructed bridge collapsed. Many crews rushed to the scene - almost half of our personnel. The place resembled a view from a Hollywood disaster film. Paramedics were looking through bushes at the river bank seeking for surfaced bodies. I personally witnessed finding of one body. Then most of ambulances began dispersing - city wouldn't wait so long. People at the next place we arrived were very angry: "Where have you been? His nose is bleeding and it seems he has dizziness." Despite we explained the reason of being late they just said "We don't care. We have problem here!"


- So you worked full-time?

- Yes. After two weeks of working on daily shifts, from 8am to 8pm, I was suggested trying night shifts and working on weekends. The busiest shifts. I agreed. And indeed I saw lots of 'performances' during these days. Once the dispatcher reports 'stab wound to the chest'. We rushed to the address - knife in chest almost always leads to deadly end. On the way there we were anxious - if the guy dies we will get into trouble with health department. Fortunately, the patient, born in 1991, was lying on the floor with zelyonka (brilliant green antiseptic) on his chest. The boy tired from life had tried to end his days. Somewhere he had read that the easiest way to die is to hit a nail in chest, but he couldn't. Instead he cut off his nippel in order to painlessly bleed out. Having cut it off with scissors he called doctors himself feeling terrible pain.
- The other day they nearly married me. We stepped into a smoke-filled alcohol smelling apartment - a serious drinking session in process. A young girl is experiencing heart pain in the next room after a family quarrel. We made a sedative injection and sat by her side for 15 minutes monitoring her condition. Her mother comes in the room and starts asking my age, marital status, job, educational backround. It turnt I was of the same age as her daughter was and she proposed going to a first date with her daughter. Then she tried to make the crew go and leave me - I was nearly forced to sit on the table the girls father was partying with his friends. At last we escaped somehow.  

- Was there a kind of calls you still fear?    

- I saw many deaths, terrible wounds and extraordinary cases. Do you remember the case when a military post 'encountered ghosts' in the night. My crew was sent to the scene, fortunately I wasn't on shift that night. Soon the crew was recalled from the place - for some reason they needed psychiatric aid themselves. A paramedic got speechless for a day. Something strange happened there. But assisting in childbirth is a worse challenge to me than encountering ghosts. Four times I assisted in birth, thank God, all successful. I prefer anything other to assisting in childbirth. Before I worked in ambulance, when I saw ambulances parked by the road I used to think they were scrimshanking while people were waiting for them somewhere. In fact, they might have been taking life supporting measures. There is a special log book to take records of the crew performance. Death in presence of ambulance crew is the worst record indeed.


The film about Arman is a part of the series about people's heroes shot on 'one region - one person' principle. It took four days to shoot his house, the office of his small private company, his aikido classes he has been attending for 8 years and, of course, the ambulance. Arman quit his volunteering career two years ago. 

- Even now, when I have spare time I substitute my former colleagues when they take a day off. When my contract with a company in Kashagan was over, I decided to open my private business related to my background. If my business grows big enough I will be helping ambulance service with money or buy equipment. Or present a new vehicle.  

- What does you wife think about you volunteering?

- She was against it before we married, but now she supports me. Recently, on August 26, a car hit a girl in front of our eyes. I came by her and rendered first aid and called doctors, staying by her side until they arrived. My wife stood near me and saw everything. She admitted I was doing a right thing.

When my friends and relatives asked me why I was doing all these, I thought "yes, why am I doing this?" The next thought that came to my mind was about an old Japanese who, after a devastating tsunami, was collecting rubbish on the ruins of his house - he was diligently putting plastic separately from glass. When he was asked why was he doing that, given everything was crushed, he replied "When they dropped bombs on our cities we built even better cities from scratch." I concluded: it's better to do a little, but job, than just talking and complaining.


- What did you learn in two years in ambulance?
- In fact, a year in the academy almost gave me nothing, except showing me skeletons and structure of muscles. I gained practical experience in ambulance - now I can make injection, reduce high blood pressure, stop bleeding, assist in childbirth and take life support measures. The most important thing I understood there was that I had incorrectly defined my dream of  serving my country. No matter who you are - a bomb technician or a doctor, you serve your country anyway. Each of us serves his/her country by doing his/her job.


September 27 2012, 10:32

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