Monday, December 27, 2010


A woman in a pastel pink terry towelling bath robe waves enthusiastically from the side of the road, a strange, bare-legged, marshmallow figure amongst the early morning commuters in their heavy coats and scarves, the piles of snow spread all around like spilled suds from a bath. Her legs are lobster red, and her hair has been roughly towelled dry, sticking out in tangled clumps. She smiles and jumps up and down in her slippers.
‘He’s down at the bottom of the basement stairs. I thought I heard someone calling.’ She turns and dog-slippers her way back across an icy yard, adding over her shoulder: ‘I was in the bath.’
She leads us to the top of a steep flight of worn stone stairs. A tall, elderly man is standing looking up at us from the bottom. His face is bloody, and the front of his old blue windcheater glistening.
‘Down here,’ he says, raising his arm.
‘Is he all right?’ says the woman, dropping the phone into the baggy pocket of her bath robe and then gathering the fluffy collar of it tightly around her neck. ‘I thought I’d better ring before I did anything else.’
‘Well let’s see. I think you should get inside, though. Thanks ever so much for your help’
‘That’s all right,’ she says, pushing her hair back.’ Then she waves down at the man. ‘Hope it goes well, Mr Chapman.’
‘Thank you, Brenda.’
Then she turns and hurries up the icy steps back into the house.

We pick our way down to Mr Chapman.
‘What’s happened to you, then?’
‘I was just bringing my car battery down for a charge and I slipped on the last step. I’m okay though. I wasn’t knocked out or anything.’
‘Any pain anywhere? Funny feelings in your arms or legs?’
‘Not a thing. My head stings where I scraped it on the wall, but that’s it. I don’t want to waste your time. I’m fine.’
‘Let’s just get you on to the vehicle, give you the once over and see what’s what,’ I tell him. ‘Are you sure you can make it up the steps?’
‘Yes, yes. Just move my battery into that alcove though, would you?’
Frank puts it out of the way and we head slowly back up the stairs.
‘How old are you, Mr Chapman?’
‘Eighty four.’
‘And how’s your health?’
‘Fine. Nothing wrong with me.’
He smiles, and his teeth have the usual bloodied definition of head injuries, each individual tooth highlighted with a dark line. ‘No pills or potions.’
‘And still driving, obviously.’
‘It’s my life,’ he says. We reach the ambulance. ‘I used to drive one of these, just after the war.’
‘Really? Well it’s an honour to have you aboard. Shame it’s not happier circumstances, but never mind. There you go. Make yourself comfortable on the trolley.’
‘Look, are you sure this is necessary? I could just go indoors and tidy myself up. You’ve got better things to be doing with your time.’
‘Right now, this is the most important thing for us, Mr Chapman. Let’s just get that jacket off. And – have – a – look at you.’
I start exploring his matted hair. It’s quickly apparent he has a significant wound – a palm sized skin flap exposing his skull.
‘This is quite serious, Mr Chapman,’ I tell him, soaking the area with saline and doing my best to bring it all together and tidy it up. ‘It’s pretty deep.’
‘Really? I don’t think so. I think I just need to go home.’
‘No, no. You’ll have to go to hospital with this one.’
‘Hospital?’ He swings his legs off the trolley. ‘I don’t think I need hospital. Can’t you just put a plaster on it? I’ve had worse.’
‘Absolutely not. This goes right down to the bone.’
‘Really. You’ll need stitches. Some proper looking after.’
He mutters something, then settles himself back on the trolley again. I carry on cleaning him up. After a moment he says: ‘I only wanted to put the battery on charge.’
‘You can do that later.’
‘I don’t want my car running down.’
‘It’ll be fine.’
‘I’ve always taken good care of my cars.’
I toss the bloody gauzes into a bag and Frank helps me bandage the wound up.
‘Are you sure this is absolutely necessary?’ Mr Chapman says, folding his arms.
‘We wouldn’t do it otherwise,’ I tell him.
There’s a pause. Eventually he says: ‘Can’t I just go back down and put the battery on charge?’
‘We need to get you to hospital, Mr Chapman.’
‘Brenda seems nice,’ says Frank, tidying up around us. ‘Jumping out of the bath like that. Running down the street.’
Mr Chapman looks up, tentatively patting the dressing on his head.
‘That’s one way of looking at it,’ he says.


tpals said...

I wonder what the other way of looking at it was? Another interesting character.

Mariodacat said...

Poor old guy. Probably thinks dat if he lands in the hospital, he'll die there and never get out.

Spence Kennedy said...

tpals - I suppose he meant that if Brenda hadn't have phoned the ambulance he wouldn't be carted off to hospital. (But of course she was doing him an enormous favour - he just didn't realise how serious his injury was).

mariodacat - Maybe. But if he used to work in the ambulance, he'd know that hospitals aren't like that (maybe it'd be true if he was a stretcher bearer in the Crimea...) You do hear it said from time to time, though, esp. amongst elderly patients. I think they get freaked by all the negative stories in the press (who always focus on the negative, and often over-hype poorly understood stats). Anyway - we took care of him!

Cheers for your comments!

Nari said...

Head injuries are definitely scary. I was a very clumsy child...still am, come to think of it.

The one thing I learned from all of those bumps and scrapes (other than the fact that I should be wearing a helmet at all times) is that it is really difficult for a lay-person to determine how bad off a head injury is, especially when it's on their own head.

Spence Kennedy said...

Well said!

I wish I'd had a mirror so Mr Chapman could see what I could see. It's a bizarre situation to be in, trying to persuade someone to come to hospital (because you can see their skull). But you're right - that's head injuries for you.

I used to have a lot of them as a child. Proudly carry a scar in the centre of my forehead where I butted the corner of a door when I was 2. Screamed the ER down, apparently. Quite right too. :/

jacksofbuxton said...

I think Mr Chapman is of the generation that doesn't like to make a fuss.Possibly seen enough people in an ambulance in his time to make him think he's ok.Can never be too careful with a head injury though.

Hope your Christmas was a good one Spence.New Year's Eve to go yet though!!!

Spence Kennedy said...

He did seem very self contained. Impressive in anyone, but esp. for someone in their eighties. Glad we managed to persuade him to come with us, though (couldn't have done anything else).

New Year's Eve - lucky I've got my Iron Man outfit sorted. Actually shouldn't be too bad (famous last words). :/

InsomniacMedic said...

Nari and Spence - lacking mirrors, would you consider using the camera on your phone (if you have one) just to show the patient? I've done exactly that on a number of occasions when a similar circumstance has arisen, and it often does the trick! I always check if they'd want to watch me delete it afterwards...
Great writing as always Spence!

Spence Kennedy said...

Hey Insomniac! D'you know it hadn't occurred to me to use a camera! Makes sense though. We used to carry Polaroids to take shots of RTCs to show the staff at hospital. Not sure if they're still on the vehicles now, though (note to self: check the vehicles more thoroughly). The only thing is, if I took a snap of Mr Chapman's HI with my phone camera and showed him, he'd wonder what the hell he was looking at (my poor photo abilities more than his head..)

Have a great 2011, IM. I'll drink something bubbly to your health around midnight (coke / sprite ... I'm working :/ )

The Real Housewife of Greensboro said...

You know it's funny because in my senior year of high school, I got into an accident and litterally left a headprint in the windsheild and I knew that there was a lot of blood coming fron my head but I didn't grasp how bad it was until after I got to the hospital. Plus I actually had pieces of the metal from the car stuck in my leg and I didn't find that out until after I got to the hospital either. I swear I didn't even feel any pain down there. It's amazing how the human body works.

Spence Kennedy said...

Blimey - that sounds rough! Hope there weren't any long term effects from the crash.

It is incredible how injuries get masked by the adrenaline of the accident - something we have to be wary of. I've had people walking about on grossly dislocated ankles, for example. Eech! They always go on about the mechanism of injury - is the person likely to have sustained an injury (notably of the neck / spine).

Happy New Year, RHG! x

The Real Housewife of Greensboro said...

No, I just ended up with a scar but it's under my hairline so you can't see it. It ended up being a Keloid, I think that's how you spell it, so I can still feel it. And I still have scars from the metal in the car but no concussion or spine injury. The paramedics wouldn't let me move until they got a neck brace on me and when I got to the hospital they wouldn't even let me go to the bathroom until they got the test back confirming that my back and neck were alright.

PS. I think it's so funny you use the word Blimey! LOL I guess you guys really do say that over there. I'm in NC in the states. :)

Spence Kennedy said...

I had to Google 'keloid'. Sounds like a particularly bad accident you had. Hope everything's good now.

I suppose I do say 'blimey' now and again - but I'd never say 'lawks' or 'luvva duck' or 'stroik a loit Mary Poppins' (with conviction, anyway). :0) x