I lean forwards to read the screen as well.
Self-harm / suicide. Swallowing chicken bones. Pt name Fox.
Rae presses the call button, a weariness to her movements like she’s an astronaut struggling to operate on an increasingly bizarre planet.
But it’s true. Control is quite straight-faced about it. There’s a car on scene requesting routine back-up to an intoxicated patient by the name of Fox, a fifty year old female who attempted suicide by swallowing chicken bones, then punched the floor. Police also on scene.
Rae settles back into her seat and folds her arms in a self-hug. She’s asleep and twitching before I’ve even made the turn at the end of the street.
A full moon rides low over the estate, washing everything out, making it all strangely one-dimensional, hard and unrelenting. Flickering TV lights behind some of the windows, like the moon has set multiple moon-fires there. Feral shouts and cries from further off. And then an actual fox, limping across the road.
‘There she goes!’
Two police officers, one male, one female, wait by their car at the bottom of a ragged rise of concrete steps. The female walks towards us, bright, blond and smiling; the male waits behind on her dark side, leaning back against the patrol car with his arms folded, chin tucked in.
‘Sorry about this,’ she says, cheerfully. ‘I don’t think Rose is really a threat to anyone, or herself. I’ve been out to her before and it’s always the same – high drama, low impact. Did you get the note about the bones?’
‘Don’t worry. She hasn’t done any damage. She sicked it all up again, threw her weight about but then lost interest. I think your colleague’s just coming out now. She’ll tell you the rest. Anything else you want us for?’
‘No – that’ll be fine.’
‘Okay then. See you later - no doubt.’
She climbs into the patrol car. I wonder for a moment if she’ll drive away and leave her colleague to fall backwards into the road. But he sighs, stands up straight, and finds the minimum energy required to climb in next to her.
Niamh, a new paramedic, comes down the steps to see us.
‘I can’t apologise enough for turning you guys out to this,’ she says. ‘I thought we had it all sorted. There’s no real need for her to go to hospital. She’s way too drunk for a psych assessment, and anyway I don’t think they’ll find anything new. She hasn’t hurt herself tonight. The bones thing was a bit weird, but she didn’t choke or do any damage.’
I imagine Mrs Fox snatching up a chicken carcase and trying to cram it all into her mouth. It makes me feel queasy, so I take a deep breath; the night air feels chill and good.
‘I don’t actually think there’s much danger of her doing anything else,’ says Niamh. ‘We had managed to settle her down and get her into bed, with a view to referring her on in the morning. But then her brother came out of nowhere and it all started up again. And now she’s complaining of chest pain and what not – again, nothing going on there, I don’t think, but she’s adamant she wants to go to hospital, and I couldn’t talk her out of it.’
‘Here they come.’ Niamh shivers and hugs her clipboard. ‘Been busy?’
There’s a scuffling and swearing from the top of the steps. Mrs Fox emerges from the communal doorway, her brother with one arm around her waist, the other holding a bag and smoking a fag. Mrs Fox has her hands out in front of her and a wretched expression on her face, like a ham actress playing Lady Macbeth.
‘Come on, Rose,’ he says. ‘Look. The ambulance is here and everything.’
‘Leave me alone,’ she says. ‘Just fuck off and let me get on with it.’
‘No! You know what we said. You have to go in and get seen. You can’t waste any more of these good people’s time. We agreed, remember?’
She nods, then waves her crabbed hands higher in the air.
‘Look what I done!’ she says. ‘Look what I done to my hands.’
Niamh grimaces, and turning slightly side-on, whispers: ‘Absolutely nothing, as far as I could tell.’ Then smiling, back up to Mrs Fox. ‘Come on, Rose. Least said soonest mended.’
But as we all stand there watching them curse their way down the steps towards us, our collective breath misting in the first really cold night of the year, it’s abundantly clear to anyone who might be watching that none of us has the least idea what really needs to be said, or the smallest clue what needs mending.