Thursday, November 08, 2007

coming up for air

I slow down as I turn from the main drag into the street, shut the blue lights off, creep along on the lookout for a man on the pavement. Then up ahead, the familiar one hand waving, one hand holding a mobile phone to the ear; I sprint up to him, grab the torch, and we both climb out to see what’s happened.

The man who is patting his mobile phone away has the sharp chin and tailored suit of a model. This could be a photo shoot, if it was not past three in the morning, in the freezing dark, by a figure groaning up against a wall. The man’s demeanour is equally clean.

‘Thank you so much for coming. This is how I found him. It looks as if he has a nasty head injury. He keeps saying he’s been assaulted.’ And then he adds, as a favour: ‘I’m sorry, but would you mind if I carried on my way? I’m already disastrously overdue.’

I wonder where he could possibly be headed – but smile and thank him for his help. He clips smartly away, and we turn our attention to the patient.

He is curled on his side in a semi-foetal position, making a mewling noise, and screwing his features up into a childish expression of the hurt done to him. Rae tries to get him to talk, whilst I use the torch to look him over and establish the nature and extent of his injuries. He has a small gash on the crown of his head and some minor abrasions on his torso, but nothing serious. He reeks of alcohol and unwashed clothes; on the face of it, here is a drunk who has fallen and caught his head on the wall, but we need to find out more.

‘They beat me up! They beat me up! Why would they do that?’ he cries. But, strangely, his tone then turns completely around in an instant and he says, quite conversationally, ‘You seem nice. Do you like what you do for a living?’

We help him to his feet, and he stands competently enough.

At this point the police arrive in two cars, and the scene takes on a much brisker, more official demeanour, with blue and white police tape around where the man had been lying, and someone with a notebook writing things down.

‘What are the nature of the patient’s injuries?’, a policewoman asks me. ‘Was he attacked? Is he going to hospital?’

I tell her that we’ve found out his name – Darren – but apart from a rough outline of his injuries, we haven’t found out exactly what happened to him yet. I tell her that we’ll give him a thorough examination on the vehicle and let her know. We half prop, half pull him up the stairs of the ambulance and sit him in a side seat.

He is effusively grateful. I keep having to tell him to keep still whilst I take some obs and begin cleaning his head wound. His behaviour is bizarre – obviously influenced heavily by alcohol, but something else, too. Drugs? Head Injury? He certainly struggles to answer any of our questions, but instead repeats himself constantly, telling Rae she’s nice and asking her if she likes her job. He also drops into a clownish version of despair every now and again.

‘Why would anyone want to beat me up?’ he wails. ‘Why? Why?’

And then, smiling, as an afterthought, brushing some bloody hair from his face: ‘It’s so important to like what you do.’

Just then another policeman knocks on the door, and asks me to step outside for a moment. Rae is happy to carry on with the examination, but as I get up the policeman gestures for the policewoman to take my place. He obviously has some concerns, so I swap places and jump down to talk to him.

‘I know this guy. He’s a piece of work. He lives in a lovely house just round the corner. Absolutely loaded. Used to be a diver, working rigs in the Far East, Africa – you name it. I’ve been out to him a couple of times, always domestic violence. He’s got several convictions for assaults and generally drunk and disorderly.’

When I re-open the back of the vehicle, Rae gives me a look to let me know that although she hasn’t got the whole picture, she understands that a police escort in the back is necessary. I shut the door again and we set off for the hospital. I can hear Darren telling the policewoman how beautiful she is, and then in a moan that he hasn’t done anything wrong.

At the hospital it transpires that Darren is known to the staff. Another regular to add to the list. One of the nurses tells me that I should see the CT Scan of his head one day. Apparently his ventricles are so dilated by the effects of alcohol abuse it’s like someone’s been at his brains with an ice-cream scoop.

‘It’s a wonder he can function at all,’ she smiles.

As we wheel him into a cubicle, Darren raises himself up on his forearms. He looks up at the policewoman and squeezes one eye shut in the gross approximation of a wink.

‘We had a job once. In Japan. No-one knew a thing about it. We had to locate four hundred tonnes of gold bullion. We stayed in that chamber a month.’

He settles himself back down onto the trolley.

‘You’ve got some stories,’ the policewoman tells him. But he looks back up at her, without the slightest recognition at all.

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