Tuesday, July 21, 2009

sleeping it off

The early hours, thick and blue with the threat of more rain. The storm never did come, and these showers have done nothing to clear the air. I feel cut out of the sticky atmosphere, a jigsaw shape man forcing a path through the picture.

We see our patient. She lies curled on her side in front of a department store window and its display of partying mannequins. They hold their gorgeous poses, plastically fabulous, perfectly removed from the life on the pavement just the other side of the window.

Three taxi drivers from the rank opposite point in the woman’s direction. With the ragged groups of clubbers laughing and pushing each other, the street cleaners making a start on their rounds, the rough sleepers arranging their nests in shop doorways and the delivery drivers leaning out of their windows, the whole scene is like some epic Dutch canvas, each component part a drama in itself, but somehow contributing to the drift of attention that leads the eye across the road and beyond the taxis to the woman lying on the pavement, lit by the shop window.
‘It’s Sonia,’ says Rae.
Sonia is a regular caller, her MO being pseudo-fits and feigned unconsciousness.
‘Hello Sonia,’ I say, squatting down beside her and lighting up her face with my torch. ‘It’s the ambulance.’
One of the taxi drivers – maybe the one who called – takes a few steps closer and leans in.
‘You know this lady?’
‘Yes. I’m afraid so.’
‘What’s the matter with her?’
‘Actually nothing. She just does this now and again.’
‘Why? Is she crazy?’
‘You’d have to ask her.’
He turns and walks back to his colleagues. One of them laughs. Some clubbers shout encouragement to us. I think they want to see some ER action. But instead of masks and tubes and cylinders, I just give Sonia a discreet squeeze.
‘Come on Sonia. We know you’re not unconscious.’
She opens her eyes and looks at me.
‘What are you doing down there?’ I ask her. ‘People are worried about you.’
‘I’m sleeping,’ she says. ‘Fuck off.’
‘You can’t sleep here on the pavement like this. People think you’re sick or hurt.’
‘I don’t care.’
‘Well you should care, Sonia. If you don’t get up and find somewhere a bit more sensible to sleep, we’ll get the police running.’
Her eyes widen and her mouth tightens into a scowl that reminds me of Popeye when he’s reached the fighting point.
‘If you’d had four cans of lager, four cans of cider and a half bottle of vodka, you’d have trouble standing up and finding a nice place to sleep.’
‘You’re absolutely right about that, Sonia. I’m a notorious lightweight. All I’m saying is that you have to find somewhere a bit more out of the way to sleep it off. You’re not getting a ride up to the hospital. We’re going back to the ambulance now, and I’ll tell the police that you’re here. So you’ve got about ten minutes before they arrive.’
‘Fuck you.’
‘Okay. Bye then, Sonia.’

We walk back to the ambulance.

A group of three clubbers making for the taxi rank step aside as we pass. One of them, a radiantly blond young woman who looks as indestructible as one of the mannequins in the window, shakes her head and frowns at us. I want to tell her that the woman we’re so callously leaving on the floor is very well known to us, that she’s drunk, abusive and a disproportionate drain on public resources. But I don’t say anything. I simply grimace and nod and pull off my gloves with the shamefaced snap of a cut-price surgeon hurrying away from his latest crime.


petrolhead said...

I don't understand how people can be so quick to judge - you don't become a paramedic just to leave critically ill patients lying on the pavement, so surely they've worked out that your patient is just drunk? Grr!!!

petrolhead said...

Sorry, just read that you're a tech but even so!

Michael Morse said...

I was going to write "great contrast between the reality of the scene, the distance between mannequin and patient and patient and radiant blonde," but I didn't want to be redundant and use "great" every time I refer to one of your posts.

But it really is great, thanks again.

Spence Kennedy said...

Hey PH!
Maybe sometimes people just take things on a very superficial level and don't think overmuch. They see green shirts walking away from a person on the ground and think: cruel world / can't be bothered. x

Hey Mike!
Thanks for that!
I did wonder whether to write it like that. There are so many photos you see of those big contrasts - the happy couple beneath the big advert for tissues with a photo of someone crying, or a street sleeper in a heap under a slick advert for an expensive watch. But I was struck by the fact that Sonia was curled up beneath a window for lovely clothes, so I couldn't resist putting it down.

Thanks v much for your encouragement!

Mum's the word said...

Hey Spence,
I'm with Mike, I loved the contrast and the depth with which you write.
It's like reading chapters of a great novel, can't put it down.
x jo

loveinvienna said...

PH is right, techs and paramedics don't do the job because the wages are great, the hours flexible and the management understanding...

People just don't think!

And it was as beautifully written as always :)

Liv xxx

Spence Kennedy said...

Well, the hours aren't bad (apart from having to do nights)...

;0) xx

Anonymous said...

I've had a few members of the public look at me open mouthed in shock when I approach a regular and appear less than caring!

Usually saying something along the lines of "Get up! Stop wasting our time. The police are on the way"

The look of indignation soon turns to confusion when the poor lamb who was unconscious and very ill in their care suddenly wakes up, tells us to F off and staggers away of their own accord!

slmiller72 said...

New to this blog - recommended by an insomniac colleague of mine.

It's really hard when members of the public see us walking away from mr or mrs ethanolic who have told us to foxtrot oscar. I have even heard the public say, in a staged whisper, "but she's a paramedic! Aren't they supposed to care about people? She ought to be ashamed of herself!"

Oh how I bite my lip whilst I arrange for the Police to pay a visit.

A nicely written blog with a good balance of nitty gritty and humour.

Spence Kennedy said...

Hi Louise
Yeah - very gratifying when that happens! It just seems more my luck that when they see us attend a job like this we're either liaising with the police about how to have them removed, or just walking away. Half the time I think the public just want a swift and clinical job. Maybe the dirtier, real-world problems of why people end up on the street are just too much.

Hi slmiller72 (can I call you 72 for short?) Thanks v much for stopping by. If anything can help you sleep this blog will.

I find what often helps me in these socially awkward situations is just being plain exhausted. I'm far less bothered about whatever preconceptions the public have when my eyes are bouncing about on stalks. I just concentrate on the basics: singing along to the music on the radio, strong, instant coffee, and which hand to hold the pen in.

Anonymous said...

Hi Spence - I haven't been by to visit for a while. Glad to see you're still writing beautifully as ever.

I think the problem is that the causal passers-by who call you to sort out the problem and then tut when you don't are actually just projecting their own guilt. I read it as: "We called you to sort out this dreadful person because we didn't want to do it ourselves, and now you won't do it either, how awful!"

Spaniel xx

Spence Kennedy said...

How are you, DS?

Sometimes I wonder what it'll be like in the ambulance service of the 22nd century. Probably ambulances like car-sized bees, zapping overhead to get to the next foil-suited citizen to have drunk too much illegally brewed alcohol and fallen over. They'll hover just over them, extend a rack of titanium legs, scoop the patient up and rush them back to the H.I.V.E., stabilising them with wonderful, almost magical drugs and tubes en route. It'll be clean and quick. And the person who called the hospital bee can sign off their headphone safe in the knowledge that their intervention has led to a neat resolution of the problem.

Until then...

Thanks for the comment, DS!