Friday, April 23, 2010

out on the edge

When the sun set it dragged all its heat down with it, and the night rushed in deep and cold. The main streets leading down to the seafront, the promenade and the beach front walkway are suddenly massing with people, gangs of men shouting out, jumping up, running across, climbing up, smoking and walking tough; girls with arms folded against the chill high-heeling it across the road in threes and fours like raw, bare-legged birds wading out to feed.

We park up and take a torch down with us onto the beach.

The blaze of the seafront lights eases off the further out we walk. The creamy white lace of the breakers as they move in to shore are picked out in the moonlight, and the generalised roar of the traffic and crowds away up behind us on the promenade merge down into the sussurant rush and pull of the waves. Right up on the tideline Frank’s torch picks out the fluorescent stripe of a jacket, so we turn that way. We meet a group of clubbers standing back in a group.
‘She’s over there,’ a guy says, so quietly it’s hard to catch what he says. ‘We stopped her going in.’
‘Do you need us for anything else?’
‘Not unless the police do?’
‘We’ll be off then.’
‘Thanks for helping out.’
‘No problem.’

Two female police officers are crouching next to a seated figure. The waves are almost at the feet of one of the officers; every time another one comes in, she stands up and shifts her feet fractionally, but still she keeps between the woman and the sea.
Three torch beams light the scene erratically, swinging about as people change their positions, but they’re enough to show us a well-dressed woman in her forties, her long blond hair expensively mussed, diamond flashes on her fingers, fitted skirt and black patent slingbacks. If it wasn’t for the fact that it’s just past midnight, and both her arms are held by the officers, she could be a business woman taking a post-conference break on the beach before her train leaves for the shires.

‘Madeleine was seen acting rather distressed, and then those guys stopped her running into the sea.’
She shivers and shakes her head.
‘I was not running into the sea. I’m fine. Will you let me go?’
‘You’re obviously not fine, Madeleine. We’re all a bit concerned, to be perfectly honest.’
‘But why? There’s nothing wrong. I just want to go on my way, thank you. What have you done with my purse?’
‘It’s just here look.’
The officer momentarily lets go of her arm to reach for the purse. Madeleine immediately launches herself up, hurling herself forward in the direction of the water.
‘Hey! Hey!’
The other officer has a strong enough grip to stop her making the distance. They both retake their hold, just as another wave rushes up and slops over the first officer’s boots.
‘Let’s all move further up the beach or we’re all going in the drink.’
We half lead, half drag Madeleine up the beach. Up on the beach walk there is a raucous cheer, but it may not be for us.
‘Come on, Madeleine. Let’s get you up to the ambulance and have a chat.’
‘I’m fine, honestly. This is all a misunderstanding. I just want to go home.’
‘Where’s home, Madeleine?’
‘Please. Let me go.’
‘I’m afraid we can’t.’
‘No, Madeleine. Come on up with us to the ambulance and we’ll all have a chat.’
She sobs – and then makes one last desperate heave back in the direction of the sea. But the officers have a firm hold, and she quickly exhausts herself.
‘Just walk nicely now,’ one of them says. ‘We can’t let you go. You know that. We wouldn’t be doing our job if we did. So let’s just walk quietly and calmly to the ambulance, Madeleine. The alternative is we carry you there, and that won’t look great in front of all these people now, will it?’

She looks up and around at us all, her face porcelain white in the moonlight.

‘You don’t know what you’re taking me back to,’ she whispers.


MarkUK said...

I'm only a CFR, but I find the "people" part of the job the most difficult.

We don't get training (well, about 15 minutes) in how to deal with people who are distressed or out of it. Some of my patients are K2 or as close as makes no difference. Others have mental/behavioural problems - a "chest pain" may just be someone's way of getting some help.

Since becoming a CFR I know I've become more empathetic but that doesn't mean I can deal with either patients or rellies in the best way.

Even a one-day course would help.

Jean said...

I read here regularly but rarely comment. I usually lose myself in your telling and find myself clicked away somewhere else before I know it.

Your writing is so extremely vivid. Your grace under pressure is amazing.
See? I simply can't put together a proper paragraph of praise.

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks AA

I agree - handling people is the most difficult aspect of the job. I think training would def help, especially in specific areas such as breaking bad news, the major psychiatric conditions, dealing with aggression / violence.

Hi Jean

Thanks very much for that. I don't know about 'grace under pressure' though - more like Mr Bean half the time! :) x

Anonymous said...

argh...Mental health, it's scary just how diverse it can be, and perhaps whats even more scary is how very very ill people can be whilst being physically very very healthy!

Keep up the work Spence,

lulu's missives said...

Hello Spence,
Your words show us her fear at what she's going back to. Beautiful but sad.
xx jo

uphilldowndale said...


Spence Kennedy said...

Hey VT
There is a terrible disparity between the mental and physical health of the patient. This woman was in the prime of life - but collapsed on a beach at midnight intent on drowning herself. A huge disparity, and all the more shocking for the contrast.

Hey Jo & UHDD
God knows what it was she was facing that she would rather throw herself into a freezing black sea than confront. Her words were all the more powerful for being whispered on a loud and punchy w/end night...

Cheers for your comments! xx

Rach said...

I am sure I felt the chill come over me as you described the heat disappearing.

I hope what she went back to wasn't as bad as she so obviously feared.

I have wet feet too now!!

Thanks Spence as ever for taking us with you! x

Spence Kennedy said...

Hi Rach

It was such a desolate scene, even worse in some ways for the tiny lights of ships way off on the horizon. It was unimaginable that anyone could want to throw themselves into that black sea - and a measure of how desperate she was. I've no idea what it was she was so terrified of, but it must have been pretty awful!

Thanks for the comment, Rach x

haveyouseenthisgirl said...

oh lordy lord lord. I haven't been back to this blog for a while and when I do it's as beautiful and eloquent as ever.

Please, please tell me you're writing a book - your descriptions of each character are incredible.

Nice one. and thank you.

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks Haveyouseenthisgirl

I am writing a book - but not really anything about the ambulance! I'm about half way through, so don't hold your breath! It's a bit lighter and funnier than the blog (hopefully).

Thanks again for the comment :)

icecold said...

That just about broke my heart reading that. How incredibly sad and desperate she must have felt.

Spence Kennedy said...

The fact that she was power-dressed for a city job but on the beach at night seemed to massively increase her vulnerability somehow. The incongruity of it, I suppose.

Thanks for the comment, icecold.