Sunday, January 25, 2015

the list

The hotel manager is spooked. It’s difficult to keep pace with him as he covers the lobby in long strides and jogs up the stairs to the first floor.
‘He booked in last night. We don’t know much about him beyond the basics I’m afraid. Everything seemed fine. Then the desk took a call this morning asking for an ambulance.’
He swipes the door with his card and pushes it aside.
‘He must have bought the stuff himself,’ he says. ‘This isn’t a brand we use.’
Michael is sitting on the floor of the tiny bathroom just inside to the right, one arm supporting himself on the rim of the toilet, the other in his lap. He’s sitting stock still, his face as white as the porcelain, speckled with beads of sweat. He groans pitifully, looking up at us as we all come in. There are two bottles by his side. One, an empty half-bottle of whiskey, the other, a plastic bottle of drain cleaner.
Rae passes it up to me. Ninety-seven per cent sulphuric acid. There’s a pale and puckered semi-circular burn to Michael’s lips, just like the pattern you get when you swig from a bottle of milk. We haven’t bought a chair up with us, but he’s able to walk – in fact, he’s so desperate to get moving it’s a job to stop long enough to throw a bathrobe over his back.
We take the lift. There are people in there, guests going down to breakfast or heading out for early meetings. The conversation dries immediately and we ride down in silence. Michael’s expression hasn’t changed, a trembling, appallingly inward-looking thing.
The lift doors open and we hurry across the lobby. One of the receptionists hands me a sheet of information. There is a set of revolving doors in the centre. I steer him away from those to the disabled access off to the left whilst Rae hurries ahead to open up the ambulance. On the vehicle we decide not to hang around. Hospital is three minutes from here so we set off immediately.
Michael’s groans become more strangulated and high pitched. He retches but doesn’t vomit, like the mechanism doesn’t exist anymore. A dreadful smell emanates from his mouth, scorched, almost fecal. His pupils are deep and black and round and fixed on me.
‘Help me,’ sounds like.
‘Almost there’ I tell him.
I touch his hand, but I suddenly realise I’m still not wearing any gloves and the skin of my hands have started to tingle.
Michael is screaming as we wheel him through the main doors.

A team is waiting in resus.

They crowd round.

Later when we ask one of the nurses what happened with Michael.
‘Oh, drain cleaner man? They tubed him and packed him off to ITU. There’s nothing they can do for him, though. He’s just gone up there to die. But at least now he’s unconscious.’
She finishes writing something, hands it over to reception then sticks the pen in her pocket.
‘I mean – drain cleaner’ she says. ‘Come on, now. Jesus Christ. That’s got to be way down the list.’


Jane said...

Poor poor man, what a terrible tortured state of mind he must have been in to do that. So glad he didn't die alone. What an awful job to have to attend for you.

jacksofbuxton said...

I suppose that if you're desperate to end it all,then anything will do.

Still an unpleasant way to catch the night ferry.

TomVee said...

Awful. Horrific. How can a person do that to themselves? There must have been one hell of an underlying mental problem for him to do that.

Anonymous said...

Hope your hands are ok.
And you have to be beyond desperate to drink drain cleaner!

Spence Kennedy said...

It was pretty dreadful. You can only wonder what it was that drove him to such a desperately violent & self-destructive act. I think as soon as he swallowed the stuff he regretted it, though. Poor guy.

Thanks for all the comments. Very much appreciated.

samrad said...

Hope blogging about this one helped Spence, sounds like a bad one that will stick with you a while. Doesn't sound like anything you could have done would have changed the outcome but still a nasty call to attend.

Spence Kennedy said...

It does help, Samrad. I'm not sure why, but trying to find words to describe the situation seems to ease some of the bad feeling. It's all just so sad and such a waste.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for being there for Michael. Touching him, even without gloves, would've spoken to him far more than any other intervention. I understand it would've been tough on you, too, but having attempted suicide a couple of times I can understand the desperation that takes hold in personal darkness. Your kindness and empathy has spoken to all who you have contacted through this message. The people of UK are so fortunate to have you come to them. I know for certain that if I'm in Michael's position again I will make sure I succeed next time. The scorn and punishment meted out by the health professionals in my area to those who survive a suicide attempt are in distinct contract to your compassion and willing to reach out in understanding. You probably won't post this but I just wanted to thank you for being there for the people in your area and for sharing to let those of us listening (and more than with our eyes) that there is at least one person willing to reach out and connect even at the very last moment. I pray Michael's suffering has now ended and that yours is transformed into something precious and sustaining. Bless you, Spence

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks very much for your comment, Anon. I know how difficult it must have been for you.

First off - if you're feeling suicidal I'd like you to log on to, find a helpline number for your country and give them a call. It's really important you speak to someone soon about how you feel. You're guaranteed to speak to someone non-judgemental, someone who'll listen patiently and sympathetically, someone who'll have ideas about where you could go next to get some help.

I know from experience how all-consuming depression can be. It's a huge subject, but one thing I've always tried to hold on to is the thought that however bleak things look, time will pass, the situation will change, and the way you feel will, too. Getting help is key, because when you're in the grip of those self-destructive feelings you're not thinking straight and certainly not in your best interests. I think depression is such an insidious thing. It makes you think that brutal vision of the world is the truth, that you're seeing how things really are. But of course, you're not. You're seeing things through a dark filter - so it would be a tragedy if you acted on that picture without giving yourself a chance to see beyond it.

Like I say, a huge subject. But please talk to someone.

I'm sorry you've had bad experiences with health professionals in the past. I know some are more receptive to mental health issues than others. I don't know why that is. I suppose everyone has their blind spots (no excuse, of course). I hope the next time you need to get help you have better luck with that.

Thanks again for writing, Anon. And good luck with the fight! :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Spence. I am listening and I have heard. Please be assured how far one kind word will travel. I live more than half a world away from you. You're right, the fight is daily, however, these days I'm engaged in a bigger one. I co-manage a community house and we have started a campaign with our ambulance service to ensure our people are treated decently by the local crews. To their credit last year the ambulance service launched an external investigation into the behaviour of one paramedic in particular. I know a number of people who committed suicide rather than ask for help because help is not what they received. My team is working to change that and I'll be printing your story out to share as I know it will encourage a lot of other people. :-)) Sorry to hear about your back. On this blog you've left such a treasure trove. I hope you can look after yourself, too.

Spence Kennedy said...

This community house sounds like an excellent project. The world definitely needs more co-operative ventures like yours. And I think it's great that you've started on this campaign of dialogue with the local ambulance service. It's a shame that it's come to that, of course. Everybody has a right to be treated fairly and sensitively. It's a salutary lesson for everyone, but especially for the ambulance - how a few individuals can bring the whole service into disrepute. Glad to hear that the service is taking action. Best of luck with the outcomes.

Thanks for the kind words about my back. It's much better now, excepting a few deep aches towards the end of the shift. I haven't done too bad considering I've been 8 years on the front line and this is my first MSK injury. A warning shot across my bows, though - I think the days of people working ten or twenty years in this job are over.

Good luck with everything, Anon. And thanks again for writing.