Tuesday, September 02, 2008

boxed character

Angela is standing over by the far window, two thin white leads dangling from her ears to the pink DS Lite she grips fervently with both hands. She has an intensity about her that is accentuated by her bloodless face and hands and the mess of grey blond hair piled on her head like a wig made of wire wool. She is so engrossed it’s like the console is playing her.
‘Hello, Angela. Do you mind if we come in and have a chat?’ I say to her. ‘It’s the ambulance. My name’s Spence and this is Rae.’
She flicks up her eyes only briefly, something like a snake tasting the air, then settles back into the game.
It seems as if Angela has been standing in this room – crammed full of pop posters and soft toys - since she was twelve. She’s now forty, and I can imagine the view out of the window changing as she stands there: a new housing development along by the port, increasing numbers of cars in the road, deep green hedges racing up in one garden and mature apple trees torn down in another. The sun rising and setting, the moon waxing and waning, whilst Angela stands by the window or sits on the bed, and her dressing table gradually fills with a collection of boxed characters from films and TV shows – Princess Leia, Charlie’s Angels, Wonder Woman – twist-tied in action poses behind their yellowing plastic bubbles.
‘Did you know we were coming?’
She looks up at me briefly, nods once.
‘Do you know why?’
She stops playing with the console.
‘I’ve been having trouble again. The voices were back really strong and they were telling me to kill – certain people.’ She looks at me again as she says this, as if to check that I understand who those people are.
‘That’s what your mum told us downstairs. She’s pretty worried about you, Angela. She’s worried that you might try to hurt yourself again.’
Angela begins tapping at the console again.
‘We’ve just got to think what’s the best thing to do for you tonight. Have you got any ideas? Is there anything you’d like to do. Or not do.’
She ignores me.
‘Do you think you might hurt yourself tonight, Angela?’
With a sigh she sits down heavily on the bed, pulls out the ear pieces and lays aside her console in a dead flat sulk, as if I’ve just told her off.
‘I tried to kill myself last year. I climbed onto this bridge. The police were there and they stopped me. I ended up in hospital then.’
‘And do you think you might do something similar now?’
She shrugs.
‘If the voices tell me to, then – maybe, yeah.’
I hear a car pull up outside and the thunk of doors being closed.
‘Angela – the police were called here tonight, too. I don’t want you to be worried. We had to have the police along because it said in the notes that you were potentially violent – had been violent, to some hospital people, when you were last in. Is that true?’
‘What we’ll do – we’ll meet the police downstairs, talk to your parents, and then decide what we can do to help tonight. If you want to come downstairs, too, that would be great.’
She stares at me, her eyes half closed. The medication is obviously taking off a good deal of the pressure, but what little you can see of her eyes is a crystalline grey, hard and implacable. It’s like talking to a camera lens.
‘Shan’t be a moment.’
We make our way back down the narrow staircase to talk with the parents in the kitchen. The police are there – a man and a woman – and by the way the mother is up and making tea, it would seem they’ve been here before, many times.


Caroline said...

It's the same in my business (home care in a rural area) - now and again you see a situation and you try and imagine what it must be like to live that life, every day, every minute for years..for decades in this case. Ordinary houses on ordinary streets and people walking past having no idea of the strain and pain behind the curtains. I am sorry for the lass of course but I find myself imagining her parents lives - and shuddering. Great post Spence

Spence Kennedy said...

Thx C
You're right - a terrible strain on the parents. They seemed to be bearing up, though, if quite numbed.
It struck me that despite their situation being ongoing and in many ways predictable, the out of hours psych provision was non existent. They didn't have any emergency contact numbers for advice, and the OOH GP didn't have anything in the notes to guide him particularly. It just leaves the police and ambulance to try to stitch something together on scene - fraught, to say the least.

Anonymous said...

Spence, I don't understand why you were there. She wasn't hurt, and neither was anyone else. Isn't that what the ambulance service is for? I didn't know you did preventative medicine too...

I'd be interested in your views of my latest post, buy the way. Pop over for a look.

Spence Kennedy said...

We get called to psychiatric/suicide threat jobs. We'd also been told in the notes that she'd taken an OD a week ago but had only just confessed to it (not something I described in the post). The OD was only minor, so really we were only there because her behaviour had worried the parents.
As it transpired, we triaged the job and passed it to the OOH GP.