Saturday, May 31, 2014

tights or no tights

It’s been such an incredibly busy night, I hardly know what to do with myself. I feel punch-drunk, brutalised. No sooner did we clear up than another job came through, everything from the most serious to the most trivial, from a young guy with a life-threatening head injury to a drunk teenager vomiting all over the place. The fact that there was only patchy cover made it worse, especially late on in the shift. Everyone was out of sync, off patch. We ended up travelling distance to get to jobs, twice out to a town east of the city. And now, just before the end of our shift, with the relief crews almost on base ready to take over, another call comes through, back to that same town. We’ve already asked if there was anything Control could do to sit on the job for a few minutes until someone fresh could go. It’s a low priority job, after all. The Dispatcher was sympathetic, but her hands were tied. The only reason for us not to respond would be if we booked sick. But if we did, the whole shift would be marked absent. Given the level of work, that would feel like a major sacrifice.

‘Mobile,’ I say, pushing the button.
Never has that word or that action felt so wretched.


Rae drives smoothly and quickly. I try to shrug it off, this feeling in my chest, an ugly grey weight of exhaustion and resentment. Rae feels the same, but we talk each other up. After all, how bad could it be? Here we are at the top of the day, the morning fresh, the sea running clear and bright. There’s a fishing boat out there, gathering lobster pots. I imagine what it must be like on that boat. I wonder if he notices us, the tiny ambulance on the distant shore, racing along the coast road.


Helen is sitting on the side of her bed, anxiously turning the hem of her nightie over and over in her hands.
‘I don’t know what to do,’ she says. ‘I don’t know what to do. Shall I get dressed before I have a wash, or after?’
Rae spots an ambulance sheet on the sideboard.
‘Did you have an ambulance out earlier on?’ she says.
‘I’m not in trouble am I?’ says Helen.
‘No, no. We just want to make sure you’re okay.’
‘Same thing,’ says Rae, reading the form. ‘Anxiety.’ Then she points to a folder on a table, stuffed full of ambulance sheets.
‘Quite a collection,’ she says.
‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry,’ says Helen. ‘But I didn’t know what to do. I’m going to the Day Centre this morning. They’re picking me up at nine thirty. Do you think I should go? I haven’t got my tights on. Should I put my tights on, do you think? I can’t breathe.’
‘You can breathe, Helen. You’re talking to me perfectly fluently, your SATS are fine, there’s nothing physically wrong with you. I think you’re just getting a bit het up. Don’t you think? Has that been a problem for you lately?’
‘I’m not getting into trouble, am I?’
‘No. Like I say, we just need to make sure you’re okay and have everything you need. Maybe it’ll be worth having a word with your doctor later today. What do you think?’
‘I don’t know. I don’t know what to do. Please help me.’
‘Have you had your medication this morning? I can see here you take some pills to help calm you down.’
‘I can’t have them before I eat.’
‘Shall I make you some toast and a cup of tea? Then you can take your meds.’
‘I haven’t had a wash yet.’
‘Maybe you could have something to eat first, have some pills to help calm you down, then have a wash and get dressed. What do you think?’
‘Oh. I don’t know. I haven’t got my tights on.’

Helen is such a lightning rod of anxiety, she seems to draw it out from everything, to feed on the latent fuss around her, from the heavy brown furniture, the soft toys in their plastic wrappings, the cluttered pictures and plates, the trinkets piled up around the place – and weirdly, out of me, too. Because for whatever reason, the more time I spend with her, the more my own anxiety and exhaustion seem to lift. Her distraction is cancelling out my own.
‘You’re going to be fine,’ I say, squeezing her hand. ‘Everything’s fine.’
‘What about my tights?’
‘You can put them on if you want, Helen, but it doesn’t matter if you don’t. It’s up to you. Whatever way, tights or no tights, it’s going to be fine.’


Jane said...

Poor Helen, what a awful, exhausting condition to be in..anxiety is such a crippling condition.

Also, bizarre (and tightfisted!) that you get the whole shift marked sick if you go off in the last half hour, when you've already worked the majority of it. (feel free to delete or not comment on this - don't want to get you into trouble with work!)

Hope you got to enjoy some of the lovely sounding day once you'd finished work!

Spence Kennedy said...

Hi Jane

I did feel very sorry for Helen. To be that anxious must be dreadful - so debilitating. I wonder if she's had any counselling? Meds are fine & definitely helpful, but ultimately the only thing that's going to 'fix' her is to find a way to cope with those overwhelming feelings of panic.

I do think it's a strange policy to mark you down as absent the whole shift if you go sick right at the end. Half way, perhaps, but not if you've worked the majority. I think it's short-sighted, because it encourages people not to come in if they think they might struggle, for whatever reason.

The next day was a day-off - and it was great, thanks! I hope you're enjoying the sun and managing to get some quality down-time!

Cheers for the comment. Good to hear from you

Anonymous said...

I think this exchange will sound very familiar to those caring for relatives with dementia. The anxiety, short term memory loss and confusion are so debilitating for everyone. Dealing with situations like this 24/7 are completely exhausting, so carers snap "oh for goodness sake...." which only increases the anxiety and adds guilt for the carer. Glad you both still had the patience to treat her with such understanding.

Cassandra said...

*eyebrow raise* Are you kidding? REALLY? All of that… for *tights*?!

Oh Spence… You and Rae are saints. Good lord.

Spence Kennedy said...

Hi Anon

It must be so exhausting, dealing with this scenario day in, day out. And harder, with dementia, in that the prognosis is simply for more of the same, or worse. The stress on the carers is immense, and I wish more was done to support them with regular respite care.

I'm surprised (amazed, actually) that I managed to find the patience, to be honest. Certainly as we were heading out on the job I was feeling anything but patient. I think in the end I only managed it thanks to Rae, the beautiful morning - and the fact that Helen was so vulnerable.

Twelve hour shifts can seem endless, especially through the night. (Note to self: find a job that doesn't require twelve hour night shifts...)

Thanks for the comment, Anon. Very much appreciated.

Spence Kennedy said...

Hi Cass

(Sorry - for some reason your comment didn't appear in the moderator box at the same time as Anon's...)

Yep - pretty much for tights - or at least, what they represented i.e. what to wear, what to do first thing in the morning to get ready for the day centre pick-up. I must admit we didn't feel like saints - more just grubby old shop window mannequins crudely dressed in the approximation of saints (tired, is all).

Hope everything's good with you today, C

jacksofbuxton said...

Reading it in the cold light of day makes Helen seem a bit of a frequent flyer,but I'm sure at the time she was in a serious state.

Spence Kennedy said...

I've not met Helen before (we were quite a ways off patch) but the pile of ambulance sheets in the corner of the room suggested she wasn't 'unknown' to the 999. It's so frustrating. You'd think by the time patients like Helen have called that often, more would be done to 'head them off at the pass' - whatever's required to do that. But maybe it's just another sign that there's not the level of community support there should be. Come the General Election next year... (nothing will change)

Hope you & the clan are all fit and well & enjoying the sun, Jack. (It's sunny there, right?)

jacksofbuxton said...

Hope you & the clan are all fit and well & enjoying the sun, Jack. (It's sunny there, right?)

No,it isn't.

But all is well with me and mine,as I hope is with you and yours.

Spence Kennedy said...

Yep. All good, thx J. Just had a few days off, so feeling renewed. Back to work tomorrow (d'oh)