Wednesday, July 09, 2008


The last thing to clean is the carry chair. I put on another pair of blue gloves, pull the chair out of its cupboard, carry it off the back of the ambulance, set it up, and then step back in again to fetch a canister of surface wipes. When I come back out, a young guy is standing over beside the automatic doors to A & E, looking down into a mobile phone. He catches my eye, nods a hello, then shuffles over uncertainly for a chat.
‘Thanks for coming earlier,’ he says, stuffing his phone in the back pocket of his jeans and then standing neutrally as if he were awaiting further instructions.
‘That’s okay. How’s he doing?’
‘Oh – he’s okay. The idiot. One of the doctors had heard of those pills and he says they’re not too bad. He says it’s a kind of plant treatment that they can sell as a vaguely legal e or something. Weird.’
I picture the smart little pill folder to myself – the silhouette of a dancer against a bright yellow sunflower.
‘But he did say that maybe taking two at once was pushing it.’
I carry on with my cleaning and he watches me work.
‘He got a bit freaked when his heart start beating like some kind of cookery timer, though. I don’t think he’s cut out for these weird extracts. The idiot.’
‘There’s always something,’ I say, but I don’t know what I mean. It stalls the conversation. I worry away at a seam of faecal matter just below the lip of the seat.
‘Busy night then?’
‘Oh. Not too bad. You know.’
‘I hope we didn’t waste your time. We didn’t know what else to do. He was well freaked by it all. The nut job.’
‘I’m glad it’s all worked out ok.’
The seat’s clear now. I move on, methodically wiping down the struts, back, rings, joints, foot rest, throwing each wipe into the yellow clinical waste bag that I’ve set up on the ground beside me.

He watches me.

I feel like spilling the whole sorry episode out to him, telling him who the last occupant of this carry chair was, a man who had been hauled drowned and lifeless by his elderly father up out of a bath of freezing water, and whose father we had seen trying to compress his son’s chest and talk on the phone at the same time whilst the family dog howled in the room next door. I want to tell him that our attempts to revive the man on the filthy bathroom floor had been hopeless, or try to describe how difficult it was to lift him in such a cramped and slippery environment up off the floor and on to the chair when it was time to go. I want to tell him that when I sat the mother in the cab with me to follow the leading ambulance to hospital, I’d forgotten that we’d left the radio on in our rush to go into the house, that I still didn’t realise how loud the music was playing as I explained what would happen next, and how stupid I’d felt when the mother reached forward, turned it off and said ‘Sorry. I don’t think I can listen to this at the moment.’ I want to tell him how she rode up to the hospital with her hands folded in her lap, shocked white and calm, and how we’d both watched as the blue lights of the ambulance carrying her son gradually sparkled further and further off into the night ahead of us. I want to tell him that at hospital by the relative’s room she’d politely insisted to the charge nurse that she be allowed into the resus room, and how respectfully she was received when she was eventually led through those doors.

‘Do you think we’ll be here all night?’ the young guy asks me.
For a second I’m disoriented and don’t know who he means. I straighten up, toss the last wipe into the bag and look at him.
‘Let’s hope not,’ I say, and notice Rae walking over with two cups of coffee. ‘Let’s hope not.’
I peel off the blue gloves. They follow the wipes into the bag.


BenefitScroungingScum said...

You really have quite a gift for painting the true picture with your words.
For all the tragedy here it's good to hear someone came to thank you and attempt to apologise for wasting your time. BG

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks, BG. It really was good of the guy to come over and chat. I think I was quite stunned after the last job and it was good to have a normal conversation - even if I was a bit spacey. He was a nice kid, funny and pleasant - taking care of his crazy brother. I hope that it comes across that I didn't mind him being there, or that I didn't mind going out to them.
Hope yr well.

loveinvienna said...

Hope your alright Spence; I get the impression from the way you've written this that it was quite an upsetting experience, like that lady who was hit by the train.

Nice that the lad came over to apologise and talk with you. So often these days we hear about ungrateful little *bleeps* who seem to think you're a kind of free taxi service, a mobile 'scrapes and hurty Boo-boos' clinic, open all hours for all kinds of stubbed toes and banged knees.

Angry at the abuse of the system? Moi?

Liv xxx

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks Liv. It was upsetting, but the practicalities help. Cleaning the chair was quite therapeutic - and talking to the guy helped, too, although I'm sure he thought I was maybe indifferent. You never really know, do you?

Anonymous said...

Th contrast of jobs that we go between in this line of work is what makes me want to do it.

In both cases you did all that you could and nobody can ask anymore. After that upsetting job the next one could be a patient who then lifts your day.

I had a week with 3 difficult arrests at the start.......... ended the week delivering a baby! That one good job can turn it all around.

Beautifully written as always.

Anonymous said...

You and your colleagues simply do a remarkable job. Thanks.

Spence Kennedy said...

Def agree about the variety of the work. It does all seem to balance out, though (some days more than others) - unpleasant/pleasant etc. Makes for an interesting day!

Thanks v much for that. We do our best, which can be a challenge sometimes, working at the sharp end of things. (Thanks for reading the blog, too!)


Anonymous said...

hey, i dont know how you cope in your job, just reading your blog makes me cry :)
finally managed to comment on a post that wasnt about dementia though :)
hope your ok Spence,
ellie xx

Spence Kennedy said...

I think in many respects it's worse reading about these things (or thinking about them in retrospect) than actually dealing with them as they happen. At least when you're in the thick of the action you're so busy being practical you haven't time for much else.
Thanks for your lovely comments, Ellie, and for reading the blog.