The side of this new ambulance is blazoned with stroke information but I think it should carry advertising for beer. At least that way we could generate some income and buy a few more of these trucks, which make the rest of the fleet look like hand carts.
And after all, beer is the motive force behind the majority of the jobs we’ve been hit with tonight. Drunken assaults, assaulted drunks, unconscious drunks, drunken falls, self-harming (with a bottle opener), spiked drinks, and a man – drunk - wanting his hip operation bringing forward at eleven o’clock on a Saturday night as he was tired waiting on the list.
I need a drink. But I have to settle for a Diet Coke down on the seafront as the sun drags itself above the horizon and survivors of the Saturday night apocalypse clatter home.
One last call – a psychiatric / suicide. Patient given as slightly violent, which I query with Control. Should we stand off a touch? It’s up to us. Police have been assigned, no ETA. There’s a grey wash of exhaustion in the air. Even the seagulls are gliding smack into buildings.
Frank takes the ambulance round the corner and into the street. There is a young girl standing outside a house with a mobile phone. She waves to us, it all seems calm, so we park up and introduce ourselves.
‘Mel’s upstairs,’ she says. ‘She’s taken about a dozen of these pills and says she wants to kill herself.’
She hands us an empty blister pack of Citalopram.
‘Is that everything she’s taken?’
‘I think so.’
We follow her up the stairs of a sparsely furnished student house towards a bedroom on the landing where a girl is being comforted on an unmade bed.
‘I just want to kill myself,’ she chokes. ‘I’m worthless and no good and everyone’d be better off if I was dead.’
All three girls are spilling out of ultra-short club dresses, the glossily sweet aromas of their make-up and perfume cut with smoke and sweat and alcohol. They are hyper-sexed figures from a Manga strip struggling in the grim dimensions and gravity of this room.
‘Kill me. Just kill me and walk away,’ Mel says.
At some point in the night someone has drawn a cat nose and whiskers on her face. ‘I’m scusstin. I’m a scusstin person and I want to die.’
Frank and I sit down on the other bed in the room. I put the clipboard on my lap. It’s an intolerable temptation to kick off my boots, lie down on this bed and go to sleep, and for a moment I wonder if that might actually help. Maybe it would be a calming influence. I remember reading an article about the psychiatrist R D Laing. If a patient was having a psychotic episode and was crouched on the floor with their hands over their heads, he would crouch down next to them and do the same. I bet R D Laing would’ve had no problem lying down. The shock factor. The distractingly idiosyncratic move. I could wake up after an hour or two, Mel would have straightened out, I could go home.
Instead I say: ‘What’s happened tonight to spark this off?’
Mel starts banging her head against the wall and her friend hugs her to stop it.
‘Nothing,’ the friend says, stroking away the strands of blond hair that are sticking to Mel’s face. ‘We had a nice time, came home, then this. She’s been like it before, but never as bad.’
Mel starts scratching at her legs, but her nails are all bitten back, so it doesn’t cause any damage.
‘Can’t you just give me an injection to kill me?’ she says.
There is a knock on the door downstairs and two policemen come thumping up the stairs.
I explain the situation to the first of them, a tall, buzz-cut guy whose blue eyes are no doubt capable of projecting his CV onto the wall.
Meanwhile, Frank says to Mel: ‘Do your family live nearby?’
‘They’re all miles away and I bet they’re glad about that.’
‘A little sister.’
‘What’s her name?’
‘Imagine if Claire came to you and told you she was really sad and wanted to kill herself. What would you say to her?’
‘I’d say don’t be stupid.’
‘Would you tell her she wasn’t thinking straight? She was being too hard on herself?
There is a pause. The policeman has tucked his hat under his arm; his colleague stands behind him on the hallway discretely studying his watch.
Mel suddenly snatches up the empty packet of Citalopram and shakes it in the air.
‘These are meant to be happy pills but they don’t fucking work.’
She starts trying to bang her head on the wall again.
The policeman steps into the room. We make room for him on the bed.
‘Now Mel,’ he says. ‘Don’t do that or I’ll have to restrain you.’
He puts his hat on the windowsill, sits down between us then leans forwards to take her hands. For a moment they sit like that, Mel cradled in her friend’s lap, both her hands held by the policeman.
‘I’m scusstin,’ she whispers. ‘I’m a scusstin person and I have to kill myself.’
‘You’re not disgusting, Mel. I’ve only known you a few minutes but I would say you’re a well loved young woman who just feels a bit under the weather at the moment. Why don’t you come with these guys to the hospital and speak to someone about how you feel?’
‘A little ride in the ambulance, Mel,’ I say, sounding like a poor salesman. ‘The pills you’ve taken won’t cause you any harm, but the fact you took them is a worry. We need to make sure you’re safe. So why not come with us to the hospital and we can find someone for you to talk to? Otherwise, I’m afraid it’ll mean a trip to the cells.’
The policeman gives me a slantways look.
‘I don’t think that’ll be necessary,’ he says. ‘I know Mel’s going to be sensible about this.’
Ten minutes later, he leads her down the stairs and into the ambulance. The policeman explains to her why he believes she is a worthwhile person. I chat to her friend about her studies.
Mel moans and pulls her hair. ‘I’ve done bad things, scusstin things. I’ve had sex with boys to make them like me.’
‘When?’ says her friend.
‘All the time. I don’t tell you ‘cos I think you’ll hate me.’
She starts scratching and slapping at her legs.
‘Don’t make me have to restrain you,’ says the policeman, reaching out to take hold of both her hands again.
She stares at him, a smudged and bedraggled, scusstin cat, paw to paw with the long arm of the law in the early hours of the morning.