Thursday, August 28, 2008


We’ve been told that an ambulance car will be making a first on this severe respiratory distress. The satnav blue-lines us into a wide avenue and there we see it double parked a way up ahead, blue lights flashing. I drive up, park behind it, we climb out of the cab and go up to the front door of a detached Georgian house, its front garden built for speed with an unkempt clump of ornamental grass and a dump of slate chippings. The rack of buzzers by the battered front door testifies to the minute sectioning of this place into flats. The building has an air of slow, expedient ruin about it, like some grand family falling through hard times and scandals to a pragmatic accommodation with the modern age.
We are buzzed in to a musty hallway, original black and white tiling jarring with the notice board, fire extinguisher, alarm console and the casual scattering of letters above the radiator. With all the health & safety notices, contact numbers and house rules pinned up everywhere, it looks as if this may be some kind of hostel, but it’s not one either of us has been to before. We go up the stairs and in through the door marked ‘3’.
We step into a rancid atmosphere of nicotine and old sweat, and then: ‘Hello chaps,’ says Ray, the paramedic. He is standing with his stethoscope draped around his shoulders, his legs spread like a compass, scribbling observations down on his clipboard. Slumped on the bed in front of him is a half-naked young man who would not be out of place chesting walruses on an ice flow. His swollen breasts hang across his belly, a great, veined appendage that pushes his arms and legs apart and makes him look in danger of exploding. He raises a padded hand to stroke his Fu-Manchu beard, and nods at us.
‘More troops’ he says.
‘This is Henry,’ says Ray. ‘Henry has had a bit of chest infection for the past few days. Hasn’t seen his doctor, felt worse today, called us in. As you can see, he’s talking in complete sentences, his sats are fine, no chest pain or anything like that, I’ve listened to his chest, it seems clear, but Henry says he’d like to get some expert advice on all this. Sorry I didn’t get a chance to stand you down.’
Ray is brisk, with a kind of deadly clarity that only Henry seems impervious to.
‘And I can reassure you that he’s walking out to the vehicle.’
‘I’m sorry to call you people out,’ says Henry, starting to gather the vast black acreage of his t-shirt to him. ‘I didn’t know what else to do.’

We take in the bedsit whilst Ray finishes off the paperwork.
‘Are these your paintings?’ Rae asks Henry, nodding at the canvases brutally nailed to the walls. Each one is roughly covered with a smear of yellow, red and brown acrylic paint.
‘Yep. They’re my dreams.’
At one side of the room, opposite the kitchen with its nightmarish dump of dirty pans and pizza boxes, propped up casually against an old Laney amp, is a Gibson Les Paul guitar. Its beautiful, bright cherry finish is even more striking for the awfulness of its surroundings.
‘You play guitar?’ says Rae.

Henry half closes his eyes. ‘A little.’ He begins hauling the t-shirt over his head.
Above the guitar, on a cleanly swept, little blue votive shelf, there is a clip frame: a photo of Carlos Santana.


Later that night – one sprained ankle, one hyperventilation, one threatened suicide, one imminent birth and one collapse query cause later - I’m wheeling the trolley back outside to the ambulance when I notice a little grey triangle of plastic on the tarmac.

I nudge it with my boot. Unmistakable. A plectrum.


loveinvienna said...

Despite the fact he was wasting your time (and that is something which I normally start spitting feathers about), I feel rather sorry for Henry. His scruffy, dirty surroundings seemed completely at odds with his lovely Les Paul.

Liv xxx

Anonymous said...

jut thought I'd leave a comment, as I never have yet, to let you know that I really enjoy reading your posts.

Anonymous said...

'I didn't know what to do'

Argh!!!! Doesn't this drive you made??!!

I can't work out if these people are stupid, ignorant or just plan lazy!

GP, make own way to A&E, NHS 24 (hang on, you'd probably have ended up there anyway)........... do people not understand the concept of emergency!

Ok rant over, sorry!

Spence Kennedy said...

Yeah - I did feel sorry for Henry. It's frustrating when people don't seek help in the appropriate way, but hey, he plays the guitar (and so do I!) x

Thanks for your lovely comment :) Sx

I think with Henry he had mental health issues. It does drive me nuts when we're called out to people who haven't bothered to see their doctor/use common sense/take themselves to A&E - but it happens so often I think I must be developing a kind of mental callous. Anyway - I always make sure I get a cup of coffee when I get to A&E. :) Sx

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to say hi and that I really enjoy reading your blog. I am a 911 dispatcher in South Dakota (USA) and I read your blog on a regular basis! I just wish I could write half as descriptively as you do.

Spence Kennedy said...

Hey K!
Thanks for the comment. It gives me such a kick to think that you're reading my stuff way over in South Dakota!
Really good to hear from you.
S :)

Anonymous said...

Its no better for us, talking to them mate.
They give you all the chat about the pat having difficulty speaking, going blue nearing faint.
And in the background the tell tale shouting of 'just tell them to send me an ambulance'.

Spence Kennedy said...

Hi jb
It sounds as if you work in control. Don't envy you that - at least on a truck you can see for yourself exactly what the situation is. People's accounts of the problem can be a little unreliable! Last night we were given a Cat A multiple fitting. Turns out it was a nineteen yo girl who'd drunk a bottle of wine straight off (first prize from the speed dating event she'd been on - most phone numbers collected), and then felt weird. The twitches were just a natural instinct for drama.