Saturday, March 19, 2011

ambulance noir

This job is so far off patch we may as well be setting sail for Marrakesh. A low priority call, we figure a local crew will come up long before we get there. But the minutes roll on as smoothly as the road, and the country changes and becomes unfamiliar. It’s warm enough to open the window, the radio plays a stack of good songs, but it’s still tedious that we’re expected to run on this one, and I can’t help prodding Control for updates every few minutes. The dispatcher gets annoyed.

‘Give me your mobile number. Talk to the PSIAM desk yourself,’ he says.

I’ve always pictured the PSIAM desk as a dimly lit backroom in Control, richly furnished with rugs, palms, overhead fans, a mahogany desk and a hookah, a Bakelite phone and a bronze eagle, Sydney Greenstreet sipping sweet, cardamom-flavoured coffee, sweating in an off-white suit, something heavy in his pocket.
‘Sidney here,’ he wheezes. ‘Good morning, Spence.’
‘What’s the story, Sidney?’ cringing like Peter Lorre. ‘I don’t like it. I don’t like it, I tell you.’
‘I hate to send you boys out there,’ he sighs. I hear a noise, like the slapping of a fly-swatter and the scattering of papers. ‘A dreadful waste of everyone’s time, I’m sorry.’
‘So tell me again what it’s about?’
‘An eighteen year old chap suffers low potassium. Ongoing thing, hereditary. Starts feeling low a week ago, usual symptoms of tingling in the arms and legs, but doesn’t have his usual medication to correct it. He says he’s moved house and hasn’t registered with a GP in the new area yet. He does have a repeat scrip but says he wasn’t sure if the pharmacy would accept it. He’s living with three other people. None of them seem interested or able to take the scrip to the pharmacy. They say they have no car and no money.’
‘Did you Google the nearest pharmacy, Sidney? Did you find out if they could walk?’
‘I did, Spence. I did. Nought point five miles, Spence. A light afternoon stroll. Even I could manage it.’
‘And what did they say?’
‘Not a thing. The phone went quiet.’

As it does now.

‘I told them that this was not what the ambulance service is for,’ he carries on - the sound of a pistol barrel being broken open and spun? - ‘but they still demanded an attendance. So there you are. All our other vehicles are on other jobs, or getting diverted. I’m afraid it looks like you’ll be stuck with this one, Spence. I’m sorry. I’ve done my best.’
‘It’s not your fault, Sidney.’
‘It’s this damned system. Let me know how you get on.’
I hang up.
‘They want us to attend.’
‘Shit,’ says Frank.

***

There’s a middle aged woman and a younger girl smoking and chatting outside the house. They wait until we’ve parked, then turn and lead us up to the patient. Rich, the eighteen year old, is lying on his back under a stained and uncovered duvet. A pleasant faced kid, he nods as we walk into the room and introduce ourselves. His girlfriend, her mother and a family friend, file in after us. The family friend perches on the edge of the other bed in the room and continues to play a game on his phone, held up close to his face, using both thumbs and maybe the tip of his nose.
‘My arms and legs are pretty much completely numb now,’ Rich says. ‘Sorry.’
‘I understand you ran out of your meds. Why was that?’
He makes a face.
‘But you do have a scrip?’
‘Yep. I didn’t know if it would work, though.’
‘But you didn’t try?’
‘No one would go and get it for me.’
I turn to the mother, a pale faced forty year old, weighed down by years of mascara and a leopard print dressing gown.
‘Could you really not have taken his scrip down to the pharmacy? This has been a few days coming.’
‘I don’t have the money.’
Usually about this time I let things go and retreat into a more resilient kind of politeness. But there’s something about all this – the distance we’ve travelled, the terrible waste of resources, the shocking passivity in the room – that makes me want to ride it out for longer.
‘What about you?’ I say, turning to the girlfriend. ‘Couldn’t you have helped out?’
‘I haven’t got a car.’
‘You could’ve walked.’
She shrugs.
‘And you?’ to the boy on the phone. ‘What do you think?’
He frowns and leans harder into the phone.
Frank shifts in the doorway.
‘A few bananas and an energy drink usually puts things right,’ says Rich, helpfully. ‘But there weren’t any.’
‘Bananas,’ I say to the mum.
She shakes her head as if I’ve offered her one.
‘There’s a supermarket at the end of the road,’ I say. ‘I’ve never seen such a big one. Have you Frank?’
He smiles.
‘It’s the size of a small town. They’ll have bananas. Couldn’t you have got him a bunch?’
‘Like I say. I don’t have the money.’
‘For a couple of bananas?’
She shrugs.
‘Have you any idea how much it’s cost to run an ambulance out here?’
I look back at Rich. He’s lying with the same expression on his face, waiting for something to happen. ‘You’ll be hours up the hospital.’
‘I know.’
There’s a silence in the room. Everyone’s waiting for me to say something. I think of Sydney, standing by the phone, dabbing his forehead dry with a handkerchief.

‘I suppose we’d better go to the hospital, then. Who’s coming with him?’
The two women stare at the boy with the mobile phone. After a while he looks up and says: ‘What?’

25 comments:

Fluid Idleness said...

So laziness isn't just for Americans I see. Sounds like that boy needs to move on.

Alan said...

I don't suppose you're allowed to punch anyone in the head, are you? Some people just need it.

Elaine said...

That was completely heartbreaking. I feel ashamed that these people are a part of the human race. I hope he was ok...and I hope his future doesn't involve being reliant on people like that agian.
How very sad.

Bouncin' Barb said...

Good God what a bunch of morons. Selfish, self centered and ignorant. What makes people like this?

Anonymous said...

that's fucking insanity, right there.

Mike said...

Sounds like a job for the old war time poster:

"Is your journey really necessary?"

jacksofbuxton said...

Well I have to say I'm very disappointed in you there Spence.Appalled with the way you dealt with that.You should have given them a bloody good kicking,never mind a stern lecture.Plus they wouldn't have had to wait too long for an ambulance to turn up.

I picture the PSIAM area looking like the Allies HQ hut in "Escape to Victory".

Crosby Kenyon said...

I like the Sydney Greenstreet aspect and how the mood shifts to a bit of a mystery, but I'm afraid it's a rather sad one with that threesome.

Spence Kennedy said...

FI - Once he's got a proper use of his limbs back, I think he should run, run, run!

Alan - I did want to punch them, I admit. I know it wouldn't play well in the local press, but I admit I did want to punch them.

Elaine - It is sad how sometimes you come to rely on unreliable people. I hope his situation improves - but it does require that he takes action!

BB - Unfortunately there seems to be no shortage... :/

Anon - It was insane. And all the crazier for being so barefaced. No-one was pretending that it was anything other than ridiculous. But the fact remained we travelled to the furthest extent of the county on a stupid scrip run!

mike - there should be other posters. 'You c***.' for example.

JoB - I'm keeping my powder dry for the big event, the job that's so dumb I can go out in style.

We call them the King of PSIAM. Demi-gods (when they're on).

I've not seen 'Escape to victory' - but I know Pele was in it (how?)

CK - Sydney Greenstreet rules. And Peter Lorre. I wish they were running the ambulance service. They'd have a view.

Thanks for your comments! :)

Chris said...

As an American, I feel better (but with some guilt) that we not the only ones that have lazy, entitled people. They couldn't go to the end of the STREET to get some bananas? Wow. But they somehow found a way to get cigarettes - of course!

WeeJen said...

Spence, you're a better person than I am! I'd have walked out and left them to it! :( We should be able to charge for runs like this...

On a more positive note, your writing style is brilliant! Very emotive and capturing. I feel like a bystander in every post. :) Thank you!

Jenny

Spence Kennedy said...

Chris - Literally the end of the street! And you're right about the cigarettes. But what shocked me most was they didn't seem really shamefaced about any of it.

WJ - I wish we could've done that. But I suppose he'd left it so long he did need attention. So frustrating! Just a little common sense and camaraderie would be great!

Thanks for the comments! :)

IWASNTBLOGGEDYESTERDAY said...

he's lucky he's made it pst toddler age in that house...poor kid.

Nari said...

How utterly depressing to think of people being so lazy and self-serving. First of all, shouldn't that boy be eating a banana every day? Let's hope the house never catches fire from a stray cigarette, they'd all be too lazy to get up and walk out the door.

Spence Kennedy said...

IWBY - You do wonder how some people manage even the simplest daily activity. Maybe in another life they were princes and princesses and lived in a castle stuffed full of servants.

Nari - I think he's what you'd call 'non-compliant' - not taking his meds, and not looking after himself. I'm certain sure if there was a raging inferno the boy playing the mobile phone game wouldn't even look up. :/

Cheers for the comments!

Akseli Koskela said...

Fascinating story Spence, I really despair at people like that.

Spence Kennedy said...

Me too. But thankfully I think they're in the minority. Most people are vastly more resourceful / responsible. :)

Baglady said...

Just bonkers. Sometimes I just want to slap the people you interact with.

BTW Spence, you ever thought about coming on twitter to promote your posts? I'd @ you but you're not there...

Spence Kennedy said...

Me too, BL. Sometimes there's a place for empathy, and sometimes the ol' one two.

I'll have a look at Twitter. I must admit I've fought shy of it up till now, lumping it - prob unfairly - with Facebook (which brings me out in a rash). If I get tweeting I'll let you know!

petrolhead said...

Sorry to disappoint you people, but PSIAM is exactly like every other desk in Control! Except that, yes, it is empty 75% of the time...

Spence Kennedy said...

That's a shame, PH.
So it's not true that the DDM strides around the room in a Darth Vader costume, picking up dispatchers by the throat and saying: 'Move that ambulance to stand by now, or face the consequences...' Or something. :/

Anonymous said...

Nope, 'fraid not. Well, it depends which DDM is on, of course. Sometimes you get lazy ones who just watch BBC News 24 on the huge flat screens, but sometimes you get the evil ones who are constantly checking to see who's making personal calls instead of being 'green' ie. ready to take a 999. See, handy having someone from the EDC reading the blog, eh?

Spence Kennedy said...

Very, very handy... (he says, desperately resisting the urge to slip into ambulance-mode / ambulance moan).

But I know everyone's under a lot of strain in the ambulance service these days. I don't think the system is working well for anyone; at least on the road we get out and about.

Apropos of nothing, there's one dispatcher at our Control who's pretty much a legend. He's so genuine and kind, talks to you like a human being. And if he's absolutely pushed to give you a late job, or send you off to standby in a car park in the early hours, you know he's done his best to avoid it, and will do his best to make it up to you. When he retires (or gets the push), there'll be a statue of pure gold put up to him.

Thanks for the comment, anon. :)

California Girl said...

That's a very sad story. It would make an interesting short short film. In fact, it reminds me of something the Surrealists might have filmed back in the 20's. The improbability of it all. Yet it's true.

Spence Kennedy said...

I like the idea of a surreal short film. Maybe David Lynch could have a go at making sense of some of these jobs!