Thursday, December 03, 2009


Connor stares at Karen, the police sargent, through the safety glass panels of the basement door, his arms down by his side, gently swinging a carton of milk in his left hand. His eyes are two perfectly scribed, bright blue animalistic buttons. In his peaked sports cap, with his twitchy movements, he could be a gaunt bird of prey, a self-lacerating eagle cornered in a zoo. Both Connor’s arms are a mess of stripes and bloody, elliptical wounds.
He flicks his head and smiles coldly at the police sargent. She holds her right hand off to the side, waving for me and Frank and the other police officers to stay concealed off to the side and up the basement steps.
‘Come on, Connor. Let us in. You know me. You know what I’m like.’
‘Yeah,’ he says. ‘I know what you police are like. You make me crazy. You make me want to do bad things.’
‘Come on, Connor. The last thing I want is to have to break down the door.’
‘You better not.’
‘I won’t, mate. Not if you let us in. We’re worried about you. That’s it. That’s all I’m here for. We’re worried that you’ve hurt yourself.’
‘Hurt myself? You haven’t seen nothing.’ He takes a swig from the carton. ‘I’m not going down no custody suite. I swear to you on my life. I’m not gonna be locked up in no cell. I won’t answer for my actions if you try to take me down the custody suite again.’
‘That’s not what I want. All I want is to make sure you’re okay. That’s it. That’s the only thing. But you’ve got to meet us half way. Come on, mate. Open the door and let’s have a proper chat.’
‘No way,’ he says, taking a step back. ‘No fucking way.’
The care centre manager appears at the top of the steps. ‘Hi,’ he says, shivering in the early hours cold, tightly folding his arms. ‘Hi.’ Then settles in to stand-off with the rest of us.
‘Come on, Connor,’ says Karen. ‘Why won’t you let me in?’
Connor takes a step towards the glass, holds a bloodied hand out and mouths the letters POLICE written across the sargent’s stab vest. Then retreats again.
‘I’ve got the paramedics with me,’ says Karen. She gestures for me to step into the little pool of light that spills out through the glass. I smile and hold my hand up.
‘Hello, Connor,’ I say.
‘Who the fuck is that?’
‘It’s the ambulance, Connor. We want to make sure you’re okay.’
‘OK?’ he says. ‘OK? Read my lips: FML. FML, mate.’
‘FML? Sorry, Connor. I don’t know what that means.’
He sneers. ‘Call yourself an ambulance man.’ He wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. ‘FML. Fuck my life. Fuck my life. I’ve had enough. I’ve done bad things. You’ve no idea. FML. That’s what that means.’
He suddenly reveals a small craft blade in his other hand. He puts it in his mouth, takes a long slug from the milk carton, then throws the carton back down the corridor.
Karen gives a big sigh. ‘Mate – we’ve got to get you some help.’
‘I might let you in,’ he says, ‘but only after I’ve finished my coffee.’
Then he turns and goes back into the room just off to the side.
Karen asks me what the consequences of swallowing a blade like that might be, but before I can say anything a young girl comes out of the room and reaches out to open the door.
‘He’s gone out the back,’ she says.
Karen and another police officer go inside, the others hurry back up the stairs, jump into their cars and drive off right and left. I follow Karen into the basement, but stay in the room to ask the young girl some questions. She studies me with a curiously neutral expression, like a hard white sugar-coating. She stands swaying coquettishly from side to side in front of a tatty old poster for The Nightmare before Christmas.’
‘So - you’re the ambulance,’ she says. ‘Is that interesting work?’
‘Charlie,’ says the centre manager. But then he seems to run out of energy. ‘Charlie,’ he says again.
Outside, heavy boots along the road above us.


Tom102 said...

It is almost like being there from the descriptions you give. Brilliant....

Gerry said...

Mostly, I think, we set up ambulance services in our communities because we hope that when we're in trouble--an auto accident, a heart attack, a fall from a ladder--that someone like you will come to help us. But reading Siren Voices shows us another, darker, side to our civic mindedness. When terrible things happen to other people, we don't want to see. We want someone to clean it up so we don't have to look at it. We send police and caseworkers and someone like you. Not quite what you signed on for, I suspect. Still, I'm glad you do it. I'm glad Kip and Dan and Shanna and Bill and all the others do it in Torch Lake Township. Keep writing, keep sane--keep well.

lulu's missives said...

Hi Spence,
You do find yourself in the most unusual of situations.
Lovely details.
So what happened to the swallowed blade? Too gory to go into?
x jo

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks Tom.
I find it so much easier to write about something that's actually happened than to picture something from scratch. You've always got a point of reference to pull you back. Plus - there are often great little details that are really gifts to a piece.

Hey Gerry
Certainly when I joined I didn't imagine what a large percentage of the job would be problem solving and specialised removals!

Before I joined I had an idea from newspapers and TV about the problems with drink, drug, neglect, abuse, deprivation etc. Now that I have more first hand experience, I can say how grateful I am that my life isn't blighted in the same way. And also how glad I am that I only have to dip in and out of these situations occasionally. Respect to all those people who work there all the time!

Hey Jo
It's the second time now someone's harmed themself in front of me. I must have that kind of face.

Connor was caught by the police after a short chase. We took him to hospital in the ambulance - he was quite calm with us (glad not to be in the van, prob.) When I left him at hospital he was smoking a fag outside A&E saying he was going to self d/c. The nurse explained if he did run off that his details would be passed to police and he'd be brought in by force (as swallowing a blade is obviously v serious). Don't know what happened after that! xx

uphilldowndale said...

Spence what percentage of call would you say are 'mental health' (for want of a better term) related

Spence Kennedy said...

I'd say maybe around 10 or 20 percent. We average 8 to 10 calls a shift, and 2 of those will prob be MH related. A lot, I know.

I've been writing up quite a few of these jobs recently, no particular reason other than they've resonated with me.

I do find MH jobs frustrating. We're often going in cold and blind, with only crude guidelines to work to - frustrating, as often the patient is well known to MH services.

I def think acute psych provision has a way to go yet!

loveinvienna said...

Sounds like a really messed up situation :( Hope he was sorted out but that doesn't mean it won't happen again.

This kind of thing always makes me wonder what it was like 60 years ago in Mental Health. I know there must have been cases such as this and that the poor things were probably banged up in a "loony bin" but was it as bad then as it is now? I mean, 2 out of 10 calls falling in the category of psychological assistance is a LOT by my reckoning!

Very sad :(

Liv xxx

Spence Kennedy said...

Hey Liv
I wonder how things were a few years ago, too. Those big old psych hospitals were pretty forbidding, but my impression was that at least they had the capacity.

I think GPs take most of the heat re. MH. It's the acute OOH provision that most worries me - here, it's quite patchy / uncoordinated, with the police taking the brunt.

A huge problem, in need of more planning & investment. x