I’ve met Sophie before. Her case is certainly unusual – subject to fugue states, she’s been known to wander out of the house at night, where she’ll be found by the police, standing motionless in the middle of swerving traffic, or at a supermarket checkout, surrounded by staff and security, or half frozen to death under a tree in the park. She’s tagged, so any unauthorised exiting of her flat will alert the various agencies, including the police, that are currently assigned to her care. Often these fugue states will be preceded by mini-absences; the guidance is that if Sophie reports any of these during her morning or afternoon safety calls, an ambulance will be sent to check her over and co-ordinate anything else that might need to be done.
This morning she seems perfectly rational, though
‘I’ve had two absences’ she says, smoking a tiny roll-up pinched between the tips of her thumb and first finger. ‘I don’t feel safe.’
We call her key worker and describe what we’ve found.
She needs to be in a place of safety. Can you take her to hospital? We’ll liaise there.
Sophie has no feelings either way.
‘I don’t care. Let me just finish smoking this.’
We walk out with her to the ambulance. A sharp, blue autumn morning.
‘This is such a waste of time,’ sighs Sophie, looking down at her feet crunching through the leaves like a bored driver looking down from the bridge of a walking machine. ‘Just ‘cos I have these absences, doesn’t mean anything’ll happen.’
I shrug and stand aside as she steps up onto the vehicle.
‘I know,’ I tell her. ‘But at least there’ll be someone to keep an eye on you and keep you safe the rest of the day.’
When she’s taken a seat I help her put the seatbelt on. She frowns as I click it into place.
‘Okay?’ I say to her, taking a seat opposite.
She doesn’t answer.
‘Ready when you are, Rae’ I shout back through the hatch. We move off.
‘Such a lovely day today,’ I say, settling back into my own seat.
Sophie is perfectly silent now, the frown still holding.
‘Shame we can’t see out all that much. But I could turn the blinds if you’d like’
‘I love all the artwork in your flat. Is some of it yours?’
‘It’s okay if you don’t want to talk,’ I say to her. ‘I don’t mind.’
I pick up the clipboard again and write some other stuff down – for something to do more than anything else.
Ten minutes into the journey we meet heavy traffic.
‘All these roadworks,’ I say to Sophie.
Suddenly she reaches down to her right, unsnaps the seatbelt and makes a lunge for the back door.
She’s flung it open by the time I have made the distance and grabbed her round the waist. Even though she’s small she’s quite a handful, and it’s all I can do to stop us both pitching out onto the road. For a moment the two of us hang there, half-in and half-out of the ambulance. I’m dimly aware of a couple of guys on a nearby pavement pointing and laughing. By this time Rae has put the hazards on and come to a stop. She jumps out, runs round, and together we manhandle Sophie back inside.
We manage to put her back in her seat and for the moment she stays there, breathing hard, her cheeks flushed, but otherwise unemotional.
‘Will you be all right back here on your own?’ says Rae. ‘We could always call for help.’
‘No. It should be fine. We’re pretty close to the hospital. Probably best if you lock the doors from the front, though.’
We set off again.
No sooner are we moving than Sophie tries another escape. She manages to unclip the seatbelt again, and I spend the rest of the journey corralling her in place with my body.
At the hospital the opposite becomes true. She puts herself on the floor of the ambulance and won’t come out. We have the back doors open and a trolley standing by as we try everything we can to tempt her out. Finally, though, after about twenty minutes, for no discernible reason, she sits up, walks out, and lies down on the trolley.
We wheel her into the department.
Later that day Ella, the triage nurse, grabs me in the lobby.
‘Thanks for bringing Sophie in!’ she says. ‘Thanks a bunch!’
‘Why? What happened?’
‘She spent the whole morning causing absolute chaos. She kept wandering out of her cubicle and standing in front of the desk or other people’s trolleys just staring, without speaking. She put the willies up everyone, including the consultant. He wanted to know who brought the little zombie in and d’you know what? I was that ticked off I almost told him.’
‘It wasn’t our fault. I spoke to the mental health team and they said she had to come in.’
‘Yeah? Well next time call me. Give me a five minute warning or something. That way I’ll know to go sick and be on the next bus outta here.’