Late night police visit to pick me up

Police on your doorstep late at night is never a good sign. If their business cannot wait until the morning, it must be serious, right?

And, so, it happened. Just before midnight, a car pulled up and two uniformed officers came straight to our house.

No, we had done nothing wrong – they didn’t want to question us… or worse! There had been no accidents involving family or friends – they were not bringing us sad news. So, why were they here?

Well, as silly as it sounds, they had come to pick me up ……. off the floor.

You see, I had slipped while transferring from the sofa to my wheelchair, and ended up on the floor.

Despite continued and varied attempts on my part, I was unable to get up – so called 112. This is the emergency number here in Spain, equivalent to 911 in the US and 999 in the UK.

The operator was attentive, reassuring, and efficient. He listened to the facts, understood I have esclerosis multiple (multiple sclerosis), and, after ascertaining that I wasn’t injured and did not need medical assistance, said help was on the way.

And, just 15 minutes later, two Local Police officers arrived to pick me up. This they did quickly and effortlessly and were both courteous and friendly.

Talking of police in Spain, perhaps I should point out that we have three forces – the Guardia Civil, the Policia Nacional and the Policia Local.

The Guardia Civil (Civil Guard) is Spain’s conventional police force which is organised along paramilitary lines and controlled by the Ministry of the Interior. The Guardia has wide ranging responsibilities for national law enforcement and have the resources, powers and facilities of a normal police force. The Guardia Civil polices rural areas and smaller towns as well as the country’s highways.

The Policia Nacional (National Police) is the urban police agency of Spain. They are under the sole authority of Spain’s Ministry of Interior. Like the Guardia Civil it is a conventional police force, that polices cities and larger towns. It is also responsible for border security and issues residencia certificates for anyone wanting to become a resident in Spain and the essential national-registry identification number (NIE). It also undertakes the security of the Spanish royal family and the government. 

Policia Local (Local Police) is the force that is controlled by the relevant regional or local authority. It does not investigate crime but deals with minor matters. These include parking, local traffic control, bylaw issues, and, of course, picking me up off the floor. 

Several floors up, fire alarm sounds – but you have mobility problems

Picture the scene. You are several floors above ground and the fire alarm sounds. You have not been informed of either a drill or a test and, so, the instructions are: evacuation.

Just one problem, you have mobility issues. You either use a wheelchair or can on walk down the stairs with great difficulty, in pain, and very slowly.


Laura Kolaczkowski.

I was reminded of this situation by an article headlined This is Not  Drill, Maybe written by Laura Kolaczkowski, published by Laura is very well respected within the MS community in the USA. Also, she was one of my top columnists during my time as managing editor (columns) with BioNews. Let’s let her set the scene:

A recent event in a very tall hotel left me wondering why I was so hesitant as to what to do. It happened in Nashville, at the Omni Hotel, which I was staying at for the Annual Consortium of MS Centers meeting. The day I gave a presentation at 7 AM left me tired, and I returned to my hotel room early afternoon to take a brief rest.

I had just dozed off, slipping into a much-needed nap, when the emergency fire alarm rang. At first, I thought let’s ignore the blasting noise of the siren in my room. Perhaps if I pull the pillow over my head I can pretend this isn’t happening. Alternating with the alarm noise was a pre-recorded message ordering me to leave my room immediately and to evacuate the hotel using the closest stairway and a reminder that the elevators would not be operating.

Ignore the warning?

Having worked in schools for over 25 years, I don’t underestimate the importance of fire drills, but this time I was hesitant to evacuate the building. Why would I ignore this warning? Simply put, I was going to have to navigate the stairs, and a lot of them.

My room was on the 22nd floor, and I was immediately cursing my misfortune of having returned to the hotel instead of remaining at the conference, and my even worse luck of having MS and mobility issues. As I lay on the bed listening to the alternating message of pending doom to evacuate immediately and the ear piercing siren, I could only hope it would soon stop and it would be declared a false alarm. Alas, such was not the case, and not wanting to be the headline that read Woman Perishes Because She Ignored Warnings, eventually (as in about five minutes) I did the adult thing and made my way to the stairway and began the long descent to the ground level.

About the only touch of luck in this episode was the stairway was rather narrow, with a handrail on each side that I could grasp with both hands. There were few people in the building because this was mid-day, but most of the few folks who came behind me were kind enough to slow and ask if I needed assistance. Or maybe they just slowed because I had to let go of one of the handrails so they could pass.

No smoke or stampede

Smelling no smoke and not hearing a stampede of firefighters coming up the steps to rescue us gave me confidence that this was not a true emergency. and I told these folks to go on ahead. Telling them I would be fine, but I didn’t mind if I died alone in the stairway because I had lived a full life. A few caught the wry humor, but most were busy saving themselves and just went on their own way.

I remember similar humour a considerable number of years ago. The fire alarm sounded in our office block, but instead of an orderly evacuation, staff members were just standing around looking confused. Someone volunteered the information that we were waiting for admin department to confirm whether it was a real emergency. “Meanwhile, we can all burn to death,” one senior manager commented.

Back to Laura:

I survived the alarms and the stairway but heard from my family afterward that I did the wrong thing. They swear I should have called the front desk and asked for assistance to leave the building. I tend to be a bit more independent-thinking than this and it never occurred to me that there must be evacuation plans and assistance for people with mobility issues.

Lisa and I have enjoyed a number of cruises together and their emergency drills don’t tend to cater for those of us with disabilities. However, we were assured that they have special wheelchairs designed for going downstairs. Great to know they have plans to help the evacuation of people with mobility difficulties.


An example of an emergency evacuation wheelchair. (Pic: Stlfamilylife.)

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at with other companies and products. Read more.

* * * * * is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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Note: Health-related information available on 50shadesofsun website is for your general knowledge only. It is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. I am not a doctor, so cannot and do not give you medical advice. You should seek prompt medical care for any specific health issues. Also, consult a doctor before starting a new diet or exercise programme. Any opinions expressed are purely my own unless otherwise stated.

Ambulance targets ditched for 90% of emergency calls

ambulance colours

If you have a target that you fail to achieve year after year, there is a simple answer. Just tear up the rules and start again.

It’s what is sometimes called ‘moving the goalposts’ – and there really is no better description.

Ambulances have target response times, not just where you live but almost everywhere. In Wales, UK, the target is to reach 65% of emergency incidents in eight minutes. But, after seven consecutive months of improving to 61.7% – so target was still missed – in August the success rate fell to 58.8%. The September figure is not yet available.

So, now a new system for dealing with emergency 999 calls for ambulances in Wales has come into force and response time targets will be scrapped for all but life-threatening cases during a one-year trial.

Calls will now be graded and it is estimated only 10% of the 420,000 ambulance emergencies a year will be coded “red” for the most critical.

Welsh Ambulance Service chief executive Tracy Myhill tried to put some spin on the slackening of the targets by saying that the new system was based on clinical evidence and put the sickest patients first.

Under the new system, emergency telephone operators will assess how serious each incident is and despatch ambulances in the order of severity and according to predetermined classifications which are colour-coded like traffic lights.

Life-threatening emergencies are the top priority, coloured red – and it is only this group, the estimated 10%, to which the eight minute response time target still applies.

In the United States there are no official Federal or State standards for response times but they often do appear in contracts between communities and Emergency Medical Service providers.

This has led to considerable variations between standards in one community and another. New York City, for example, has a 10-minute response requirement on emergency calls, while other places have response time standards of up to 15 minutes.

It seems to be generally accepted within the emergency services field that an ‘ideal’ response time would be within eight minutes for 90% of calls but this objective is rarely achieved and current thinking questions whether or not that standard has ever been valid’.

As call volumes increase and resources and funding fails to keep pace with the growing demand, even large ambulance services find that they have difficulty in meeting the standards. So Wales is definitely not alone.

Whether it is right to change the rules and take 90% of emergency calls outside any response time target, however, is open to question.

I suppose that we will just have to wait and see how the new system works – or doesn’t.