Tuesday, July 19, 2011

mum and dad

Guy is waiting outside in the garden. As soon as I’m close enough I ask him if he’s the patient. He nods, shifting from side to side, his hands up to his face to gnaw at the corner of his thumb, and then down, and then up again, all the while glancing along the street and shifting from one foot to the other like the film portrait of an anxious man, run through the camera at double speed.
‘Shall we have a chat on the ambulance?’
He almost sprints to the vehicle. Frank just has time to clear the blankets aside and put the back up before he clambers on.
I shut the door quietly.
‘Or would you rather I left it open?’
He nods. I open it again.
‘What’s been happening then, Guy?’
‘My heart started racing and I couldn’t control it. I couldn’t breathe. I got a crackling feeling up and down my arms, my hands – I couldn’t control it. I got tight across here. I thought my head was going to explode. I’ve got these lumps. See? Here – and here. All along here. I went to the chemist and he said I’ve got lymphoma. Do you think I’ve got lymphoma? I looked it up on the internet and I’ve got all the symptoms. Jesus fucking Christ I don’t want cancer. I’m scared – d’you know what I mean? Look. Here – here. I itch all the time. I can’t sleep. I can’t eat. My girlfriend’s stuck in a traffic jam because there’s been a crash. And the chemist said I’ve got lymphoma. Do you even know what that is?’
‘Guy? Just slow your breathing down. Nice and slow, like this – in through your nose – hold it – then out through your mouth. Nice and slow. You’re breathing too fast and that’s what’s giving you the funny feelings in your hands and arms and the tightness in your chest. Do you suffer with anxiety, Guy?’
‘What? What do you mean? Look. Look at these lumps. What are they?’
‘Guy – slow, slow, slow. Your heart rate’s fine. You’re getting plenty of oxygen. What you’re having at the moment is an anxiety attack. You just need to spend a minute or two slowing your breathing down. Okay? Nice and slow.’
‘But what do you think? I looked it up. On the internet. It’s all there – I’ve got all the symptoms. What about these lumps? Here, and here.’
‘Well to be honest Guy I can’t see or feel that there’s much there. I mean it’s a bit red where you’ve been scratching it, but nothing major. Maybe a mild touch of heat rash, but nothing I’d describe as lumps.’
‘But the chemist?’
‘Maybe you misunderstood. I’d be surprised if a chemist came out with a diagnosis of lymphoma over the counter.’
‘So you don’t think I’ve got lymphoma?’
‘I think it’s extremely unlikely, Guy. Have you spoken to your doctor about any of this?’
‘Yesterday. I told her I thought I had cancer.’
‘What did she say?’
‘She changed the subject. She didn’t want to talk about it.’
‘Did she prescribe you anything yesterday?’
‘She gave me something to help me sleep and chill me out.’
‘And have you taken those?’
‘No. She just wants me to leave her alone. She knows I’ve got cancer and she’s too scared to do anything about it. Oh Jesus Christ!’
‘Have you ever had anything like this before, Guy?’
‘What? The lumps?’
‘No. These anxious feelings?’
‘I had a nervous breakdown a couple of years ago. I got sectioned. My mum and dad were killed in a car crash. They never came home. I ended up in a police cell. You won’t take me there, will you? You won’t take me to a police cell? I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t go back there.’
‘We’re not taking you to the police station, Guy. But I think we’d like to take you up the hospital, just to make sure you’re okay and safe, and maybe find you someone to talk to about how you feel.’
The trolley creaks as Guy perpetually changes position, crossing and uncrossing his legs, grabbing on to the little black rails, dropping his head back to stare at the ceiling, jerking back upright again.
‘Just try to slow things down for us, Guy. Nice and slow.’
He gnaws his thumb again and stares at me. Finally he says: ‘I’ve tried ringing them but I get no answer.’
‘Mum and Dad.’
And he looks away from me to the open door.


jacksofbuxton said...

I know it's useful to look thing up on t'internet,but sometimes it's a pain in the bum.

Excellent as always Spence.

Spence said...

Hi JoB
It's the dark side of t'internet. I'm sure there's a new category of hypochondriac out there now - a wikipediac, maybe.

Wynn Anne said...

How about "wikichondriac"? I've been tempted myself: http://wynnanne.blogspot.com/2011/05/caution-hypochondria-can-make-you-sick.html

But this poor fellow -- wish I could take him home and shelter him. Hope he has someone good to take care of him.

Spence said...

Hey Wynn

You could certainly scare the bejeesus out of yourself in under a minute googling things like 'brain tumour'. And then get sidetracked into reading up on other symptoms that you only start to notice as you read....

Poor guy was v strung out. I spoke to his girlfriend on the phone (who was stuck in traffic). She sounded weary but supportive, so he's not alone.

Thanks for the comment!

sars! said...

I've been reading your posts for sometime now, but today really gave me pause. I was married to a paramedic (US) for 6 years and it was these sorts of stories that make me so very sad.

Powerful writing. Glad you've found an outlet for what many bottle up and allow to consume them.


Shopgirl said...

I was a bit curious about Guy's age especially after reading the comment about taking him home.

Excellent depiction as usual. I really hope he gets better soon too. I've definitely had that feeling when something terrible went wrong, I became suspicious about little things too.

Crimson Ebolg said...

Utterly heart-breaking, but beautifully written. Anxiety attacks are incredibly frightening, I'm not surprised the poor lad was strung out! I hope he got the help he needed.

Spence said...

Hey Sars! So many stories at work - which is one of the reasons I like it, I suppose. We only ever get the briefest of snapshots, but that's often even more intriguing, like a photo you like the look of. I often wish I could find out a bit more, but that's the downside, I suppose.

Hi Shopgirl. Guy was in his mid-twenties, but because of his condition he was behaving like someone half that age. I often worry about the treatment patients like Guy will get at A&E - not because the staff aren't interested or sympathetic, but because they're so snowed under with other stuff they don't have the time to sit with someone and just listen. Acute psych provision in the UK is patchy because it's under-funded, but hey-ho...

Hi Crimson. We go out to a lot of anxiety attacks. If you aren't familiar with the physical symptoms, it can completely freak you out. And we go to all social/economic groups - I've even been to a police marksman!


Thanks so much for all your comments! :)

Alexia said...

Heartbreaking - "I've tried ringing them but I get no answer."

You are a master of dialogue, Spence. And timing.

Spence said...

Thanks v much, Alexia. I did feel sorry for Guy - I think he was going through a pretty tough time.

Baglady said...

This is just stunning Spence. You capture coversation and that nervous energy so realistically. Wonderful.

Poor Guy. I hope he has someone to look after him.

Spence said...

Thanks v much, Baglady.
He was pretty hyper. It was like handling a wounded animal - we had to do and say everything really carefully and slowly. His girlfriend was on her way, and she sounded lovely, so there were some positives!

Wren said...

(breath caught) Oh. Oh, my. How gentle you must be, Spence, to so ably take care of these people, fragile and strange as they are. Gentle and care-full. Your writing stuns.

Spence said...

Thanks v much, Wren! I do try to handle patients like Guy as gently as I can. But then of course he was so strung out, anything else would've had him sprinting for the door! It's also a matter of personal safety. You have to be so careful not to antagonise the patient and make yourself into a target.

Hope everything's good with you, Wren. Lovely to hear from you x