Thursday, February 14, 2013

you are not alone

Our headlights pick up Eva a little way ahead, this side of the fence, leaning against the Samaritans board that says You are not alone.
I dim the headlights to avoid dazzling her, and come to a stop a tentative vehicle’s length away. She doesn’t even look round.
The ambulance rocks from side to side, fitful little shakes in the wind, like a bored giant has a hand on the roof. Even though we’re careful when we open the doors, it takes a firm grip to stop the doors being wrenched back against their hinges.
‘Hi! Eva is it?’
Rae walks towards her; I follow on with my hands in my pockets.
‘Did you call us?’
Eva huddles up to the board more closely.
‘I want to go,’ she says. ‘I’ll do it.’
‘Why don’t you come and sit on the ambulance and talk to us there? It’s a lot warmer. We’ve got the heater on. Blankets. I could leave the door open if you’d like, so you don’t feel hemmed in.’
‘I just want to go,’ she says.
‘Come on, Eva. Yeah? It’s freezing out here. Come and have a chat and we’ll see what’s what.’
Eva stares ahead into the mauve-black horizon beyond the cliff edge.
‘I understand you might have taken some pills? Is that right? Are they your meds, or...’
‘They’re mine.’
‘Okay. So – shall we get on board out of the cold and talk about that? It really is horrible weather.’
‘My life’s horrible.’
‘Come on. Let’s get you in the warm.’
Eva turns and studies us. A pouchy, red-faced woman in her forties, the curls of her greying hair whip about her face. She hesitates, and for a minute I think she might take a sudden run at the fence and hurl herself into the abyss just beyond it. But instead she seems to fold into herself, pushes her hands more deeply into the pockets of her jacket, and follows us back to the ambulance.


‘Eva – because of where we are and everything, the police were also asked to attend. Shall I stand them down? I don’t think they’re really needed now, do you?’
Eva responds to everything with a tired shake of her head and a pained, squeezing shut of her eyes.
‘No. Keep them coming. I want them to come. I’ve got – plans, if they don’t.’
‘Okay. That’s fine. We’ll keep them coming, then.’
She shivers under the blankets, then plants one muddy booted foot up onto the trolley, and starts jigging her knee up and down.
‘I’m under the crisis team,’ she sighs. ‘I rang them first. It told them about the voices, what they wanted me to do. Fat lot of good it did me. Them and their strategies. Their coping mechanisms. Watch some TV they said. Play some CDs. Distract yourself. Watch some TV!’
She sneers, then gathers the blanket more tightly around herself.
‘So I drank a bottle of vodka, took all my pills and came up here instead.’

The wind is picking up. It makes an eerie whistling noise as it tears around the square corners of the truck.

Suddenly there’s a knock on the door.
‘I expect that’s the police,’ I say. ‘Shall I let them in?’
Eva nods.
It’s like opening the door of a spaceship landed on a hostile world. The wind pushes aggressively past me into the cabin, the black night beyond whirling and frozen and flecked with snow.
Two officers, looking in.
‘Shelter from the storm!’
‘Come in! Come in!’
The ambulance tips as they climb aboard.


jacksofbuxton said...

I know there will be plenty of the boy or girl calling wolf in these circumstances,but the idea that someone being told to do things by "voices" should watch tv or something is a little underwhelming.

I hear voices all the time telling me what to do.Even have a name for "the voice"

Mrs Jack.

Invictus said...

Oh, that's so sad. She seems so bleak.

Watch some TV?! She needs professional help! Though I suppose they did all they could for her over the phone... (One would hope, anyway.)

I'm glad that she called you guys. She's very honest, isn't she? "I've got...plans..." You can tell she's really reaching out, looking for help. Looking for something better. I hope she finds it. I really, really do.

Spence Kennedy said...

Jacks - Def underwhelming! But all I could think (and hope!) was that she either misunderstood the advice, or was giving us a particular version of events. I have to say, though, that in our neck of the woods provision of acute MH services - esp. out of hours - is pretty woeful. That, and a reduction in the number of MH beds results in a much thinner level of care.

I was particularly struck by the contrast between 'watch TV' and the image of Eva, standing near the cliff edge watching the horizon. Quite dizzying (and horrifying).

I think that voice in your head (Mrs Jack) is actually the angel on your shoulder. And you can tell her I said that ;)

Invictus - She was a bleak character. Her 'plans' were quite explicit - if she went into hospital and was discharged after a few hours, she was going to come back up here and throw herself off. The police sectioned her on the vehicle; she would've ended up in the custody suite for a while until a place came up in a unit somewhere. Very sad. But at least she didn't jump.

Cheers for the comments!

JuliesMum said...

Think one of the problems is that there isn't enough crisis care - and living with mental illness can be terrifying and desperately lonely. If someone gets panicky, and all they get is someone down the phone telling them to watch TV, then you can imagine the emotions that can unleash - feeling rejected and isolated. It's a pretty short step then to either deciding you'd rather be dead, or (let's be honest) remembering that the one thing that makes them sit up and listen is making a convincing show that you feel that. Before you know it, you're washing down the pills and sitting on a clifftop phoning the police. I'm not trying to belittle what Eva was doing, I just think the chances are that that "I've got plans" is part of a code between her and the mental health services. As long as they are told that she "has plans" they have to show her care and attention; as soon as she stops short of being actively suicidal she'll probably find herself dumped again. It's pretty tragic, really: I find it quite inhumane the way crisis care makes you go to the line before they step in.

Spence Kennedy said...

I must admit when we turned up on scene and saw Eva right by the edge, I thought it was going to be a long and difficult job. As it was, we'd pretty much just introduced ourselves when she agreed to come away and sit on the ambulance. I think the weather helped. It was so cold and inhospitable up there, anyone but the most distracted person would've been driven to find shelter. Her request for the police seemed to have a certain level of premeditation about it, too. She was obviously at a desperately low ebb, but I suppose there's room for optimism in the way she took steps to take care of herself.

I completely agree, though. It's very wrong that people have to take such drastic steps to get the level of help they need. A sign of the squeeze on resources, I suppose.

Thanks for the comment, JM.

Shelby said...

I just want to say that I am so grateful for what you do and for all the other people who work in an ambulance. My brother just overdosed on his Schizophrenia medication on Valentine's Day because he thought that someone told him too. The ambulance got there in time and he has been medically cleared.
You are an inspiration and it was really good to read this.

Spence Kennedy said...

Hi Shelby

Sorry to hear your brother's had such a rough time recently, but great news that the ambulance reached him in time. Schizophrenia is such a cruel and difficult illness. I hope he gets all the help he needs to cope.

Thanks for the comment, Shelby. Very much appreciated.