Control make it plain.
‘Operation Wipeout is now declared. Multiple red calls stacking without any resources to assign. Please would all crews clear up as quickly as possible. Control out.’
They’ll sit on less urgent calls until the situation eases, but for now it’s looking grim.
Which makes it all the harder to deal with a drunk on a bench.
‘He’s not unconscious,’ I tell the man standing next to him. ‘Look. You can tell by the way he’s holding his eyes shut. His blood sugar is fine, so he’s not having a hypo. All his obs are normal. He’s faking it, I’m afraid.’
‘But I don’t understand. Why would he do that?’
I step back and let Frank torture the guy with a discrete but dreadful range of painful stimuli whilst I talk to the patient’s friend.
‘Let’s start with his name.’
‘I don’t know this. I only met him in morning. We stay at same hostel. He thrown into street for being too much drunk.’
‘So then what happened?’
‘He came with me here – okay - sat on benches. Okay. Then he ask me call for ambulance and lay down like this.’
‘Do you know if he suffers with anything?’
‘What is this “suffers”?’
‘Does he have anything wrong with him?’
The man shrugs. ‘I met him in morning. I don’t know this things.’
I hear an irritated growl and see the man batting away Frank’s hand.
‘Leave me alone!’ he spits through gritted teeth.
‘Come on, mate,’ says Frank. ‘Sit up and be nice. It’s a busy night. There are people out there who actually need us.’
‘I’m sorry if I waste time,’ says the man. ‘I didn’t know what to do. He says “call ambulance” so I call ambulance. Why he pretend is sick?’
‘If he was thrown out of the hostel for being drunk, he might just want a comfortable bed for a few hours.’
Despite Frank’s best efforts, the man lies as inertly as before, flopping out an arm so that to the late night shoppers passing by he looks dead. They frown at us as they hurry by, wondering why we’re not busily getting our stretcher out, giving him oxygen, doing the ER hustle.
‘The next step is the police,’ says Frank, prodding the guy in the shoulder. ‘Drunk and disorderly. Is that what you want?’
No reaction, so Frank unclips his radio and requests police attendance.
The friend watches the whole thing with his hands buried in the pockets of his jacket and his head on a disappointed tilt.
‘You’re a good friend to him,’ I say. ‘He doesn’t deserve you.’
‘I am from Armenia,’ says the man. ‘I am classical pianist come Great Britain to work. Kitchen, pubs and things. Just to get place, you know? To get a-started. But in my travels through Europe I seen much violence, much unhappy. I don’t like this thing, of course, but I help if I can.’ He shrugs again, but keeps his hands firmly in his pockets. ‘What else to do?’
The police arrive. I explain the situation to them. The Armenian offers them his name and what he knows; they thank him, then go over to the drunk on the bench.
Just then another figure appears on the scene - a tall, well-dressed man in a three-quarter length herring bone tweed coat. His face has a slack and aggressive pallor, as if his big night out turned into an emotional filleting. Without saying or offering anything, he comes and stands close up behind one of the police officers. She immediately turns and holds out the flat of her hand to him.
‘Could you not stand behind me, please, sir? I don’t have eyes in the back of my head.’
‘What? What the fuck? What have I done? Jesus – some people! You have a real problem, lady. A real problem.’
I want the police to deal with the drunk quickly so we can get away and help out with the stacking red calls.
‘Do you know anyone here?’ I ask the man.
He shakes his head.
‘Well in that case could you just keep out of the way? You’re not helping, and it’s really none of your business.’
He stares at me vacantly, then shuffles back to have another look.
‘Seriously – what is wrong with you?’ I say to him, grabbing him by the shoulder and turning him round. ‘Just back off!’
Both police officers turn their attention on the man.
‘Move away now. Now! I’ve told you – don’t stand behind me. So move!’
He shuffles a little way off and then stands in the road, swaying from side to side. And although I know it’s because of the alcohol, it could just as well be the blurring effects of his disdain. He stands there, sneering and cursing, spitting into the road.
I look from the drunk on the bench – who is getting up now, swearing horribly and straightening himself up – to the strange man in the herring-bone coat in the street, and then to the Armenian guy who stands taking it all in with his hands buried warmly in his pockets. It’s strangely comforting to see him there, standing neutrally, a traveller with an instinct for kindness, helping despite needing help himself, doing his best to make things come out right.
‘Thanks for your help,’ I say to him.
He shrugs. ‘What else to do?’ he says.