Friday, April 24, 2009

the piano tuner

I can imagine this crowd foraging through bargains in a Church hall. They have the same good-humoured competitiveness, the same restless sense of purpose. It is a disparate mix: mothers, office workers, middle-managers and students, all dressed militia-style in a haphazard kit of army surplus jackets, scarves, disposable charity shop t-shirts and good boots.
The two policemen shut the holding bay door behind us with a clunk and survey the scene.
‘Her name’s Marge. She’s been arrested under suspicion of trespassing and criminal damage. She’s sitting over there, in that corner,’ one says.
We follow him through to a middle-aged woman sitting on the bench that runs the length of the bay. She has her right hand wrapped up in a dirty white t-towel and held up in the air. She smiles pleasantly at us. I expect her to say: ‘How much for this?’ but instead she says: ‘I’m so sorry to bother you. It’s all a bit embarrassing.’
‘What’s happened?’
‘Well, there’s a fair bit I have to be careful telling you, apparently. But the gist of it is that I was climbing over a fence and hurt my finger. A friend of mine who’s a nurse did a makeshift dressing because we didn’t have time for much else. And the police called you when I – erm – got here because they were very sweet and they thought I’d better have it looked at. I’m sure it’s nothing.’
We help her up and lead her back through the crowd to the ambulance parked outside. A few people pat her on the back, wish her well. A young guy in a jacket sprouting all over with badges punches the air and cries out ‘Go Margie! Go Margie!’ but no-one joins in. The unexpected silence closes over him, and the door slams shut behind us.

With the patient sat comfortably on the ambulance, the two policemen waiting just outside, I set to work unwrapping her hand.
‘I’m a bit squeamish,’ she says, tugging off her woolly hat and shaking out a hedge of steely grey hair. ‘It doesn’t hurt though.’
In fact she has no sensation in her hand at all.
As I work my way through the extemporary bandaging, Marge tells us a little more.
‘We were at a laboratory that experiments on animals. Breaking in, actually. I mean, here we are, chatting like this, and there are dogs just the other side of town with disinfectant being dropped into their eyes. Did you know that? Disinfectant. You have to do something.’
She loosens the scarf around her neck.
‘Anyway. I was climbing over this horribly pointy fence and I got caught up. It was tricky and of course I’m not the world’s most athletic commando. I think I must have slipped back and got my hand caught. So I hung there for a moment until lovely Jake hoiked me up from below and someone else worked my hand free. We didn’t have time to hang around – no pun intended. We had to get in there and – well – complete the mission. Which we did. Hurrah.’ She smiles at me. ‘Down to it, yet?’
The inner layers of the dressing are crusty with dried blood.
‘How long ago did this happen would you say?’
‘I don’t know. Three, four hours?’
‘We’ll have to soak this lot off.’
‘Sorry to be a nuisance.’
I fill a bowl with saline and she dips her hand in it. A cloud of red slowly spreads outwards into the water. After a moment or two we ask Marge to hold her hand back up, and then with a large syringe filled with more saline I unwrap the inner layers, gently hosing underneath to loosen the dried blood and release the skin caught up underneath.
Rae is poised next to me with a large, damp gauze.
Marge looks off to the side.
The dressing comes away.
In the brief instant before squirts of blood arc delicately into the air and Rae leans in with a dressing, I catch a view of the injury: Marge’s ring and middle fingers have been partially de-gloved, the flesh and skin of both ripped at the root and slid upwards.
‘How is it?’ she says.
‘It’s quite a serious injury,’ I tell her. ‘And the delay hasn’t helped. We need to get you to hospital as soon as we can to get it repaired.’
‘It hurts a bit now.’
I clean the area as best I can, re-bandage the wound and put her arm in a sling. I tell the policemen waiting outside that Marge needs to go to hospital right away, and we’ll be driving on lights and sirens. Whilst they make arrangements, Rae jumps out and goes to the cab to call the job in .
‘It’s really quite a deal then,’ Marge says quietly. She rubs her nose with the back of her good hand and looks clear into me.
‘I’m a piano tuner,’ she says.


Rob Walker said...

Spence, every time I read your blog, I'm amazed. The visual images your paint with words are astounding. You have a gift.

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks v much, Medic7!

(Do I make the cheque out to Medic7, or ... )


loveinvienna said...

The name's Liv Love, address is 1, Mozart Street, Vienna... ;)

I agree with Medic7, always wonderfully written and so visual :) Brilliant.

Liv xxx

Spence Kennedy said...

Sorry - can't do anything without the postcode, Liv Love. Just following rules... :8/

Cheers for your comment! Hope yr well.


loveinvienna said...

Hehe, ok, ok, just send it to Medic7 ;) Are you supposed to be looking at me severely over your glasses in that smiley? :)

And out of interest, did they manage to do much with her fingers or was it too late? Don't know much about this kind of thing obviously, but I'd guess that the longer the flesh is without blood, the harder it is to 'reattach' it and keep it healthy?

Liv xxx

Spence Kennedy said...

Yes, that's my severe look (also serves as my 'shouldn't have had that last pint' look)
As always, I'm completely hopeless at following up these cases. I mean to, but get distracted / tired / forget (or all of the above). You're right about the length of time impacting on the prognosis. I think it would've taken a while to get over that injury, and I don't think she'd regain full use - but that's a guess.

Wren said...

What an awful thing to happen to Margie, who cares so much about animals she risked breaking the law. There is always a price, isn't there.

Beautifully written, Spence. I always look forward to your next new post.

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks Wren
It certainly was a terrible thing to have happened to her, especially given her profession. A remarkable woman, really. Principled, strong and willing to put herself at risk.

Gerry said...

That was really a good piece, Spence. Great specificity, pace, images. Suggestion: when you submit it for publication, change the title. As I had forgotten the title by the time I got to the end (I forget everything-one of my great gifts) the last line hit me with quite a wallop. Why telegraph?

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks Gerry
You're probably right about the title. I suppose I was thinking of that type of anecdote where you get the pay-off line right at the beginning, where it doesn't make sense and you wonder how it will work, and then when you finally do discover the relevance to the story, it suddenly acquires some resonance. But you're right, it is definitely telegraphing, and can pull the rug a bit!

Cheers for your comment and encouragement. I really appreciate it.

InsomniacMedic said...

I've been hooked on your blog since the standby in the carpark post. You keep proving that it's worth coming back to read again and again... May have to steal some of your writing ideas for my own blog...

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks for that, Ben. Thanks for coming back - good to know you're enjoying the blog. Steal away!