Wednesday, April 07, 2010


Frank throws himself down in the chair.
‘How are you mate?’
‘Good. I’m good, thanks.’
But he’s not. He hinges his glasses up onto his forehead, then massages his face with the vigour of someone washing something away.
‘Did you go to that one off the cliff?’
He finishes, takes his glasses off his head and starts cleaning them on his shirt. ‘It’s weird, you know. Apparently she sat in the car half an hour before she drove over. Not much for us to do when we got there.’ He mimes someone peering through a hole: ‘Yep. She’s dead.’

The TV in the rec room is constantly on. Now it’s showing a nature programme, life in the rain forest. Some kind of monkey, hurling itself from branch to branch, falling, gliding, hundreds of feet in the air. David Attenborough explains in sonorous tones exactly what the monkey hopes to achieve.

‘Easy money,’ says Frank, holding his glasses up to the light, then putting them back on his nose.

Rae gets up to make tea.

I think about all the suicides I’ve either been to myself or heard discussed back on base. In just three years, enough to make up a small army, a legion of the damned. I imagine them rising up and coming together from their scattered scenes of death, linking arms, marching forwards out of the chaos. Such a lot of people – and every one of them so desperate they would hang themselves in a cupboard, in a hospital toilet with the light pull, set themselves alight in an orchard, tie a bag around their head, or lie down on a railway track. A lost and bloody host, arm in arm in solidarity, new additions straggling after, a scattering of notes carried off behind them on the wind.

The red phone rings.
‘Frank, mate. You’re on break.’
‘Ah. Yep. Thanks.’

With one practised motion he flicks out the padded footrest of his easy chair, crosses his legs, puts his hands behind his head, and closes his eyes.



lulu's missives said...

Hello S.
Frank sounds exhausted, both mentally and physically. Your work seems both draining and rewarding, obviously depending on the situation.
I've lost track of how many tubes I've been stuck on due to "body on the line".
It's not nice, however it happens.

Spence Kennedy said...

Yeah - that deep boned tiredness is a perk of the job! That's why it's so important to be able to get back to base and recuperate. As it is, they're sending us straight out on standby the whole time (whatever the time), and we end up sitting in the cab by the side of the road or in a car park. But that's a whole other, very political, story... xx

Eileen said...

A funny anecdote re standby: in a small tourist town in the north the ambo station is sort of on the edge, ideal for a jump down to the town centre or out along the main road out of town. Despite the fact it was built in the days when there were never more than 5 people on duty at a time and now there are 3 or 4 times that many using it, it provides a reasonable base for those not out on the road at the moment. Some months ago, the powers that be decided they wanted to put people out on standby for whatever the reason is they want to do that. A certain amount of care in choosing a site is required for several reasons, including there is a massive very rural hinterland to be covered, most of the year during daylight hours there are loads of tourists bunging up the roads and there is the most awful oneway system. The p-t-b made several suggestions - all fell at these hurdles. So someone in tourist town said "What about Leafy Road?". "Absolutely perfect" said the p-t-b, many miles away in deepest northern cityship. "Ah well" said the ambo station, "that's just where we are, so we'll leave it as it is shall we?" Mind you, since it CAN take nearly an hour from the big hospital for difficult cases back to base, there's a fair chance you might not get there anyway. But at least you don't have to go and sit at the top of the cliffs in a howling gale!

Spence Kennedy said...

Hey Eileen

I like that story a lot!

The whole standby ethic is pretty fraught - and when you put it with the recent, insensitive changes to meal breaks, you get a combustible mix. Morale here is pretty low because of these two things primarily, but I won't go into it as you probably have enough of it at work.

God knows it's tough enough working nights. You don't mind being turfed out for a job, as that's what you're there to do. But getting sent endlessly round the city in the early hours for no other reason than to satisfy a computer generated model of probability for the next call, it's pretty unbearable.

Any vacancies in Leafy Road?

:0/ x

Charles said...

Streetside posting seems almost like a twisted dance to mess with us in the wee hours of the morning. In the town where I work, several of the posting locations are within just a mile of each other in every direction. Especially in the early morning with no traffic, getting anywhere in those boundaries from any of the stations may take at most two minutes longer.

Spence Kennedy said...

Hey Charles
Yep - a very twisted dance. I absolutely challenge any dispatcher to give me a job at 4 am that I couldn't reach in 8 mins from base. But still - they turf us out to sit in the centre of town.

Apart from anything else, I'm amazed the locals haven't gone to Control with flaming brands and pitch forks. I wouldn't like to hear whacking great diesel motors chugging away / doors slamming / the radio on at 4 in the morning o/s my house...


Anonymous said...

When I was told how my ex-husband had committed suicide my first thought was to the police/ambulance who would have had to deal with him.

He didn't do it quietly in his own house, he went to a hotel and booked a room. Then put a bag over his head. I found myself wondering if he'd had the thought to go to the toilet beforehand so they didn't have to clean up that mess either.

I suppose it just adds into the "suicide is the most selfish act you can do" because he really wasn't thinking of anybody but himself when he did it.

Now the rest of us are left behind to deal with it.

Spence Kennedy said...

Anon - So sorry to hear about the awful trauma you and your family have gone through.

I'm no expert on suicide, and often when I think or talk about it I end up saying the things that people usually say. It is supremely difficult to rationalise the event, to put yourself in a situation where self-inflicted death - of any kind - could be seen as the best or only thing to do. The old cliche 'when the balance of the mind was disturbed' comes somewhere near to it, I suppose. You do something awful to yourself and your family / friends when, for whatever reason, the normal, clear running of your thoughts is seriously changed. And then you do something dreadful, and the fact that it's successful removes any chance that the hurt can be rectified. No-one comes back to say sorry or make amends.

It's very kind and outward looking of you to think of the effect on the emergency services of suicide. I can't deny that some of them are traumatic. But you can take some comfort (perhaps) in the thought that we're accustomed to dealing with traumatic scenes. We have coping strategies / support from our colleagues who've been through similar. We get paid to deal with mess. If it gets too much or we can't cope any more, we can leave and do something else. So don't worry about it. The crew who attended your husband would only have sympathy and respect for you, your husband and family, for the dreadful loss.

I hope you're getting all the help you need, Anon. Thanks for writing to me.

with best wishes