Tuesday, May 22, 2012

on the sofa

A man and a woman are sitting on a yellow sofa facing Agnes, a hyper-inflated, twenty-four stone woman sweating quietly in a vast, raspberry coloured dressing-gown.  The woman has a folder resting in her lap, the man has his legs crossed and his hands laced around one knee; both have a glossy aura of control around them. In fact, they are so measured, from the encouraging tilt of their heads and their warm, empathetic smiles, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a camera moving in from the edge of the carpet and a floor manager in headphones urgently pointing at the woman with a pen.
‘Hi Guys!’ the woman says. ‘I’m Amanda, this is Paul…’
‘Thank you so much for coming.’
‘Really appreciate it,’ says Paul. ‘Good to have you here.’
‘So let me fill you in,’ says Amanda, lacing her fingers together and placing her hands neatly in her lap. ‘We work for the Crisis Outreach Team.’
Paul nods, smiles, discretely checks his watch.
‘We had an appointment to come out to see Agnes today as part of our continuing package of home support – didn’t we, Agnes?’
Agnes nods.’
‘We already knew that Agnes had been up to A and E this morning with a stomach complaint, but the doctors were happy for her to come home with some paracetamol for pain relief. Unfortunately Agnes had a bit of an episode in the early afternoon – isn’t that right, Agnes?’
She nods.
‘To the extent that she decided to take her own life by swallowing all the paracetamol. About forty, all told. Is that fair, Agnes?’
She nods.
‘Of course as soon as we found out what had happened, we all had a chat about it and decided the best thing to do would be to call you guys – the experts – and see what you had to say about it. And here we all are!’
Amanda finishes brightly, rattling her nails on the folder cover as if she couldn’t wait to open it up and share some delicious recipe.
 ‘Do you mind if I sit down?’ I say to Agnes.
She nods.
Amanda and Paul budge up; Amanda pats the cushion next to her. I sit down.
She looks at me.
‘How are you feeling?’
She shrugs.
‘Felt sick? Been sick?’
She shakes her head.
‘The thing is, Agnes, that’s a pretty dangerous dose of paracetamol, as I’m sure you’re aware. We need to get you down the hospital so the doctors can treat you for it. I know it’s a nuisance – given that you were only down there this morning. But it’s just one of those things. How would you feel about coming with us to the hospital?’
She purses her lips and closes her eyes.
‘If I have to go, I have to go,’ she says.
‘Excellent!’ says Amanda.
‘Good. Good,’ says Paul. He leans forwards and looks at me. ‘Good,’ he says again.
‘Okay. So. Do you have everything you need? Phone, keys, slippers?’
She nods.
‘And how would you feel about walking out? Nice and slow – and if anything changes and you feel a bit faint we’ll reconsider our options. But for now – a short stroll out to the vehicle? What do you say?’
Agnes begins rocking backwards and forwards to build enough momentum to break free of her chair. When she stands up, her dressing-gown hangs like a circus tent from the dropping-off point of her chest.
 We stand up, too.
‘Well that’s great!’ says Amanda. ‘I’m glad!’
It’s all so measured and pleasant I half expect the phantom floor manager to gesture with his pen again – And we’re OUT!. Congrats all round. Don’t forget to leave your mikes. Debrief upstairs in five.
Amanda throws her folder behind her on the yellow sofa. It opens to reveal empty pages. Paul rips his earphones out and loosens his tie. ‘I swear if I have to do another overdose…’ ‘Did you hear from your agent yet?’… ‘Where’s my double espresso? Don’t make me ask twice.’

Agnes waits by the door.


tpals said...

Yuck. Shiny, plastic people with their fake smiles and empty words.

Spence said...

Or maybe it was just me - last job of the day / difficult to be sympathetic / same as the visitors / everyone struggling to be genuine. Poor Agnes - bad timing! :/

I'm Hannah said...

Oh my, what an awful script to run through.
Congratulations on your book too, Spence!

Spence said...

I do think in retrospect is was more the way I was feeling than the MH team. I was tempted to take the post down because I didn't feel it was fair to them. Maybe I should just add something about it being the end of the day etc etc.

Anyway - thanks re. the book, H! Hope you like it! x

jacksofbuxton said...

In fairness to Amanda she has to go through the same routine as you Spence.Constantly acting as she can't show what she really thinks of some of the people she deals with.We all fall back into a default script to get through occasions when you really want to vent your spleen.

Davidss said...

Different people have different coping strategies.
They are all possibly better than mine - which is not to get involved.

Spence said...

Absolutely, Jacks & David. I was working to a script, too. In fact, of the two, Amanda's was the more upbeat and helpful. If I'm honest, all I could think of was 1) turning the job round in the fastest possible time (because it was the end of the day) and 2) avoiding having to lift Agnes (which would've involved a second crew / special arrangements ie a lot of time and an overrun). Which isn't fair to Agnes, I know. The other thing is, we deal with so many overdoses it's a struggle sometimes to stay sensitive to the situation - the MH teams, ambulance, hospital staff and everyone else. No excuse, just the way it is.

So to summarise - not a terribly insightful or even fair post, but I'll leave it up because these things are worth thinking about!

Cheers for the comments.

Anonymous said...


You may not feel it is a fair post, but it is a real one. You and others have to struggle though these problems regularly. It is a hard job to care and be upbeat all the time.

Your blog shows that you really care, but also you're human.

Spence said...

Thx Anon
It is a struggle sometimes - at its most difficult when you're distracted by other stuff - like long shifts, exhaustion, wanting to get home &c &c. No-one's immune. I try to step aside and see it happening objectively, but sometimes that's easier said than done.