Tell Me and I Will Forget: A Review

No units available.  Not enough paramedics.  Citizens dissatisfied with response times.  The public and private sectors at odds.  Paramedics and EMTs bearing witness to horrors and atrocities on a daily basis.  This could easily be a story line from FOX News in Detroit but it’s not.  These are just a few major plot lines in the documentary Tell Me and I Will Forget.

On a snowy afternoon, I decided to look through NETFLIX for something that I had not seen yet and I stumbled upon this video.  I have watched Parmedico, Firestorm, Burn, and any other public safety documentary that I can get my hands on.  While each of them has been extremely moving and left some impression on me, none has been as powerful as this movie.

The level of violence in the country of South Africa leaves me speechless.  While emergency responders encounter a lot state side, the level and brutality experienced by South African medics is unbelievable.  In the first five minutes of the movie, you meet Kallie, one of about 400 paramedics working for the government service as he responds by himself without ambulance backup to a shooting.  You watch him work, eventually sedating and intubating a disoriented patient with a hemothorax as he waits on the side of the road for what feels like an eternity for a responding ambulance.  The system is overwhelmed on a daily basis.  The work force is depleted.  Thankfully, however, the public and private sectors seem to work well together.

It was interesting to see an overview of what NETCARE 911 a for profit EMS system in South Africa has to offer.  While much of what was expressed was done by their own employees the view of many in the private sector was that they had more equipment, more ability, and better resources to draw from.  It was an interesting contrast to what many find in for profit EMS in the United States which focuses on being the more lean, cheaper option for EMS.  Far too often American private ambulance services are more concerned about their own bottom line than they are patient care. . . at least at the management level.

Comments made by the public about ambulances taking too long to get to a scene, and people dying as a result could have been from any story on any American news channel or in any newspaper picked up in the United States.  The problems systemically are no different from what goes on in the USA: high stress, and an overworked workforce resulting in a reduced trust from a public that is not educated about the importance of pre-hospital care and what it can offer.  Kallie seems to hit the nail on the head: the population being served has grown exponentially as compared to the emergency medical service which has been moving along at a snail’s pace.  While many of the reasons for this are vastly different from those we experience here, the challenge of servicing an exponentially growing community with changing needs is similar.

One positive that I feel needs to be pointed out is I was extremely impressed with the scope of practice exhibited within the system by the filmmakers.  The system is depicted as something far from a “you call we haul that’s all” operation.  Paramedics running in quick response vehicles and their counterparts on the ambulance seem to be well trusted in the medical community.  It is very nice to see.  Also, the documentation of the care was thorough and accurate.  I got a feeling of being in the scene, and not just an observer of it.  Sure, part of that might have something to do with my new 50” plasma TV but the cinematography played a big role in it.

The impact and heartache that these responders are subjected to was also a topic of the movie.  Not only does the movie look at the effects of the environment on the system and the community, it also turns the camera directly at the responders and looks at the stress that they are dealing with.  While discussing some of their personal experiences, one of the medics said “Let me put it this way: you wake up in the morning and you don’t know if you are going to go to bed again tonight or if you are going to a coffin.  That is South Africa.  Welcome.”  It seems like each responder that was interviewed was personally affected by the violence in some way.  There is no magical armor that we put on every day.  Not emotionally, and not physically.  We are just as vulnerable as every single person that we pick up.  With the back drop of what is portrayed as a very violent country and culture, Tell Me and I Will Forget accurately depicts the struggles of these emergency responders and what they have to deal with on a daily basis.

I really cannot say enough about Tell Me and I Will Forget.  It is one heck of a documentary.  I actually watched it twice to be able to capture everything that I wanted to put into this review.  If you have some time to kill, I highly recommend it.  Bear in mind though that it is rather graphic.  It pulls no punches.  It does, however, do a great job telling the story of the paramedics and EMTs serving Johannesburg and the communities of South Africa.

The messages within this documentary are deep, telling the story of an ultraviolent culture through the eyes of those who are dedicated enough to care for those who are injured as a result of it, whether they are the perpetrator or victim.  From the eyes of a fellow responder though, all that I can say is wow.  Well done.