Sunday, March 21, 2010

watching for a mouse

The door is thrown open so vigorously it crashes into the wall and the stippled glass rattles in its frame. A heavy girl stands there, vacuum-packed in shiny PVC leggings and a gypsy top. She is so preoccupied with her phone we could be two bears come to dinner and she wouldn’t react. Instead, she steps to one side, flaps one hand in the air for us to come in, whilst with the other carries on jabbing about on the keypad with her thumb.
‘Are you the patient?’
She looks up, astonished to see me there, then laughs, nods in the direction of a battered door behind her, then jumps back onto the phone.

We squeeze past.

Charlene is sitting with her legs hugged up on the sofa, her sharp white chin digging into her knees. Another girl, as big and emphatic as the girl who let us in, waves at us from across the room where she sprawls on a bean bag on the floor like a stricken parachutist.
‘Oh my God! You were proper quick!’
‘So. Yep. Hello. What’s been going on?’
Charlene directs her tiny black eyes up a fraction, and looks at me.

‘Show them the rash, Charley,’ says her friend, struggling to sit more upright. And then: ‘She’s got this mad rash.’

Charlene sighs, unfolds herself from the sofa and pulls her t-shirt up. She has raised, blotchy red patches here and there on her tummy and her back. It started last night, she says from behind the t-shirt. She rang a helpline. They said take anti-histamine tablets, whatever they are, see the doctor in the morning. But she’s phobic about taking tablets, she says, so she rubbed cream on it instead, then called us when it was still there the following day.

She lowers the t-shirt and resumes her perch on the sofa.

We give her the once over, then tell her that in the absence of any other symptoms we think it’s probably urticaria, possibly caused by a reaction to something but it’s difficult to say. We tell her we’d better take her down the hospital to make sure it’s nothing more serious.

Charley’s expression remains unchanged through all of this - the poised watchfulness of a barn owl sitting in a tree; I have the feeling if I move too suddenly, speak too quickly, reveal my position in any way, she’ll swoop.
‘Got any slippers?’ I say.

Back out on the vehicle, Charley hugs her knees on the trolley whilst her friends take up positions north and west. North girl seems to be the radio operator of the outfit, fielding all communications, keeping her friends updated.
‘Carl says should he come up.’
‘No. I don’t want that numpty around. He’ll only get me worked up.’
‘Billie says Hi. Carl says are you sure? He’s not got nothing else on.’
‘No. I don’t want him.’

Charley studies me.

‘How’ve things been recently?’ I ask her.
‘Okay,’ she says. ‘Why?’
‘It all helps to figure out what’s going on now.’
West girl turns round in her chair, hugs the back of it as she says breathlessly: ‘Was it you who came out to me last year? I broke my ankle in four places.’
‘I don’t remember. I don’t think so. How did you do it?’
‘Fell off a garage roof.’
‘What were you doing on a garage roof?’
She pauses, then says: ‘Sunbathing.'
‘Oh my god!’ says North girl suddenly.
I think it must be a particularly bad message, but she looks up and says: ‘I’m getting claustrophobia.’ She pushes her heavy black fringe aside and puffs out her cheeks, but the strands fall back into position when she takes her hand away, like those heavy chain curtains in warehouses that swing straight back into place after the forklift has passed through. ‘But it’s not as bad as that time in the police van,’ she says loudly. ‘I got so freaked I started head butting the sides. It took four of ‘em to calm me down.’
The memory seems to reassure her; she begins happily stabbing away at the phone again.
‘Gary says when are you back?’
‘Tell him whenever.’
‘Ricky says if we carry on making so much noise in the flat we’ll be out.’

Charley continues to stare at me.

‘So. Would you say you’re feeling more stressed than usual today, Charley?’
She gives a single upward twitch of her shoulders, an intensely wide awake, hungry little barn owl flicking its feathers into line, watching for a mouse.



lulu's missives said...

Hey Spence,
I've missed a few of yours. Just written a Sociology Assignment, 1500 words - phew!
I see girls like this all the time on the way to college. Social networking is the most important part of their day.
Hope all is well.
xx jo

Spence Kennedy said...

Hi Jo
Sounds like a heavy assignment - well done for wading through it. Give yourself a treat!

I don't know how she managed to txt so fast! I think it's the next evolutionary change - hyper-mobile thumbs...
:) x

Deborah said...

Vacuum-packed....... no more needs to be said! Spot-on description and instant picture in my head (as ever with your blog)

cogidubnus said...

No she didn't? Oh my could she? That's not's not...Nah that is innit...No...I'm on an ambulance...ETA 20 takin' the piss mate?

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks Deb! It's amazing to think of her actually getting into that outfit. I'd think she'd need specialist equipment... :/

Hey Cogi
No but - yeah but - .

Just lately we seem to have had our fair share of people (not just teenagers, I have to say) who don't bother with GPs at all, but call an ambulance for a free ride up to hospital. Very galling - especially as the call invariably comes through as a Cat A or B. We had one yesterday - a 19yo male who'd run out of ventolin a couple of days ago, had felt wheezy during the day, did nothing about it, until at 10pm he decided to ring for an ambulance (although he was no worse) - and when we got there, the first thing he said was 'How long will I have to wait at that f*** hospital?'. We made the Cat A target though, which is all that counts with the management, so it seems. Grrr.

bendy rebel said...

I'd be no good doing your job even if my body wasn't falling apart. I'd get really annoyed at anyone phoning for an ambulance for such little things. I dont know how they justify it, I felt bad that someone had called an ambulance for me when they'd found me in the middle of a road unconcious after I'd had a cycling accident and knocked myself out. If I'd come round before anyone got there I'd have walked to the nearest house and asked if I could use the phone to ring my mum then if she thought I should get checked out she'd have taken me

Spence Kennedy said...

Sometimes you can turn up to these waste of time jobs and not mind at all; other times, they really get to you and it's a struggle not to react. So it depends how you're feeling (and how much sleep you've had).

For example - yesterday, a 19yo male at the bus stop, feeling vaguely unwell all day (but still out and about). Sits on the floor and lets a concerned bystander call for an ambulance - then miraculously finds the energy / wherewithal to spend the rest of the time on his phone telling his friends (and gets arsey when I tell him to put the phone away).

Your cycling accident was different, tho. That would've been a genuine job - so no worries :) x

samrad said...

I remeber reading somewhere that human thumbs *are* becoming more dextrous

Spence Kennedy said...

I wonder what else is changing?

Fast forward ten thousand years... a race of beings with flat heads, USB ears and handfuls of long, flexible thumbs... :/