Kit Wharton, ambulance technician and driver

I'VE worked as an emergency ambulance driver for 14 years. All of human life is here: good and bad, drunk and sober, old and young. I've written a book about the more crazy stories dealing with everything from a machete-wielding drunk to an S&M party gone wrong.

I was a journalist for 10 years, but couldn't get a full-time job, lost confidence and thought: 'I don't want to do this anymore.' I saw an advert in the paper for trainee paramedics. I have no medical background and never imagined people like me would be allowed anywhere near an ambulance.

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It is similar to journalism in some ways. You are trying to get people's story out of them very quickly and quite often they are confused about what they mean. You have to read between the lines. You get to meet people from all walks of life. It's a good job if you're nosy.

There was one man who fainted believing he had taken an allergic reaction to his cheese and onion sandwich. I think he felt some tingling from the onion and got frightened: it wasn't anaphylaxis. We had a woman who had a knee injury and insisted on it being X-rayed, but realised halfway to hospital she was out of fags and told us to take her back home.

I've had a bloke go mad and pull an iron on me. That was odd because he didn't look like he even washed his clothes never mind ironed them. You get the occasional knife. But there is a difference between someone pulling out a knife and making a serious attempt to hurt you.

Dead bodies don't look that much different from when someone is alive. They are a bit more yellow or grey. And cold. Hopefully their eyes are closed; they're not always. It is something you get used to because you see a lot of them. The body itself hasn't changed, it is just the life has gone.

You get used to the smells: body odour, urine, excrement, unwashed skin and clothing, decomposing substances. It can make your eyes water. People who do autopsies often put Vicks under their nose to keep the smell out. I always carry a packet of strong chewing gum in my pocket.

My first experience of ambulance staff was when I was about six. My mother said she had taken an overdose during a row with my father, although it turned out she hadn't and just wanted to win the argument. I remember thinking the paramedics were very different people to my parents, who were heavy drinkers and out of control a lot of the time.

I've only been in the back of an ambulance once as a patient after I came off a motorbike. A car pulled out in front of me, I braked and hit a lamppost. That was painful. I had an open tibia and fibula fracture. At one stage it looked like I might lose my leg. Thankfully surgery saved it.

Driving fast in an ambulance through traffic is exciting and a bit of an ego trip at first. The trick is remembering when you go home at night that you're actually in a private car – not an ambulance – and can't drive straight through a red light. A few of us have accidentally done that.

People are happy to see you most of the time which is nice. For some you are their last hope and there is something very romantic thing about that.

Emergency Admissions: Memoirs of an Ambulance Driver by Kit Wharton is published by 4th Estate, priced £9.99. The author will be speaking at Aye Write! Glasgow's Book Festival on March 18. The Herald and Sunday Herald are the festival's media partners. Visit ayewrite.com