Working life: Back in play at Wimbledon

Published on: 15 Jul 2021

St John Ambulance volunteer, Dr James Thambyrajah, on his expectations for this year’s tennis tournament.

Wimbledon doctor

I’ve spent more than a decade volunteering for St John Ambulance and have always loved the atmosphere at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club at Wimbledon. It’s going to look different this time, with social distancing and fewer people. But I’m looking forward to being back, reconnecting with friends I haven’t seen in two years because of all the events we missed last year. As I prepare, I think back to a day from the pre-pandemic world of 2019. I’ll be interested to see how 2021 compares.



It’s a later start than normal. When I arrive at the venue, there’s a briefing from the clinical lead, who tells me approximately 42,000 people are expected on site today. There are usually two doctors per treatment centre. My colleague is Jenny, an A&E consultant, and we’re pleased with our skill-mix.



I introduce myself to the pharmacists and ask about supply – such as which antibiotics we stock, and whether we have hayfever medications. Patient outcomes improve when we work together.



A St John Ambulance first-aider seeks my guidance on a man believed to be suffering from an allergic reaction to an insect bite on his hand. Following a detailed history and examination, I change the diagnosis to a skin infection. Infections of the hands and limbs can spread rapidly, so it’s imperative to treat promptly. We prescribe antibiotics and advise what to do if it deteriorates over the next few days. 



There’s a steady trickle of patients, and our team of cadets and first-aiders is more than capable of resolving most of the issues, like hayfever, fainting from the heat, dehydration and sun-cream in the eyes. Nevertheless, I oversee and check whether I can help. Jenny and I discuss our patients. It’s reassuring to have another doctor to liaise with, like the dynamic you’d find in a hospital setting. 



In the café, I chat to the cadets and first-aiders. I ask them about the cases we’ve been seeing, and get a buzz teaching them about clinical topics, particularly given their enthusiasm. We discuss cellulitis, atrial fibrillation and why we compare sitting and standing blood pressures. Volunteering with St John Ambulance isn’t just medical cover. It’s also a privilege – to support young cadets, first-aiders and students and help them learn something new. 



A spectator is hit in the mouth by a tennis ball. The impact is exacerbated by pre-existing chronic neuropathic pain, secondary to dental issues. Simple first aid helps him significantly, and is followed with a conversation about prescriptions and taking medications.



The sun is still shining. For the first time, there are no patients in the treatment centre, so I take a stroll. One thing I love about Wimbledon is how personal and relaxed it is compared with other major sporting events. After break time, a woman visits with scalp pain. She had a sebaceous cyst removed a few weeks previously. This highlights how people often have ongoing ailments, but brush them aside to enjoy their trip to Wimbledon. I feel for this lady, having put up with this pain all day.



The matches are over. I notice a tweet thanking St John Ambulance for resuscitating her mother, who collapsed earlier while watching the match. Fortunately, this patient is well, because of my colleagues’ quick thinking.

Since I became part of the St John Ambulance medical team, many colleagues have become friends. I certainly felt part of a family as we shared the goal of keeping the community safe. Now, the events of the past year have further reinforced just how special it is to be part of a team that saves lives and delivers medical care whenever it’s needed.


Profile: Dr James Thambyrajah


GP in south London; vice-chair of the RCGP’s South West Thames faculty; volunteer with St John Ambulance

Hours worked

Eight sessions per week