Friday, January 21, 2011

stevie wonder

The streets are shining with all the rain that’s fallen tonight. The front desk of the police station closed at twelve, so we drive round the back. It’s bigger than you think. Once you come in off the road – slowly, checking the large reflective screens positioned high on the walls, gently across the speed humps, between the chicanes of parked response cars, vans, civilian cars and unmarked pursuit vehicles – the building rises up around you, a hulking letter C, alternating lines of long, narrow windows and yellow PVC cladding, stacked like the layers of a cake, capped with a roof of concrete icing and a cluster of aerials.

A police officer is waiting for us by the back door. He waves us into position, then comes round to the passenger door and holds it open as I climb out.

‘What it is – we sectioned this sixteen year old girl this evening. Found in the street, very distressed. She’s cut her arms up some, and then the other thing – she’s tied off her right hand with some cloth, really, really tightly and it’s looking bad. We would’ve taken her up the hospital ourselves, but to cap it all she says she’s taken some pills, so we had to call you.’
‘No worries. Where is she?’
‘I’ll take you there. Her name’s Casey.’
We follow him along a series of anonymous corridors to an interview room. He opens the door.
‘I think they just took her to the loo. Shouldn’t be long.’
‘What do we know about Casey, then?’
‘Registered as missing from a home for disturbed teenagers up country. Some previous – petty theft, shoplifting, drugs.’
Frank perches on the corner of the only table in the room. There is the sound of a slamming door and then voices approaching from further along the corridor. I move over to the window.
‘Here she is.’
He stands aside, and two, blue gloved police officers come in holding Casey upright by either arm. She has a sulky, smudged look to her, a school disco casualty in black halter neck top and crudely painted eyeliner. There is a thick stud in her lip, an agricultural thing, as if the authorities had decided to start tagging teenagers like cattle.
‘Not more police,’ she says, dragging her feet.
‘Casey, this is the ambulance. They’re here to help you.’
‘I don’t need no help. I just want to be left alone.’
Frank gestures to one of the chairs.
‘Have a seat, Casey and let’s have a chat.’
‘You sure you’re not police?’
‘Yep. Look at me. Do I look like police? They’d never have me.’
She grunts, the police officers release her arms, and she throws herself down in the chair.
Both of her bare arms are striped with cuts, some of them gaping and needing stitches. But the most compelling thing about Casey is her right hand. She has used a strip of cotton material to tie off the circulation to her hand at the wrist. The hand balloons inertly beyond the tourniquet, puce-red and ghastly.
‘Why have you tied-off your hand like that, Casey?’
‘Don’t you touch it! Don’t you come near it!’
‘I just want to know why you’ve done that.’
‘If I tell you, you won’t do anything about it, will you?’
‘All I want to do is find out what’s going on with you tonight, Casey. That’s it. That’s all I’m interested in. So come on. Why have you tied off your hand?’
She cradles it in her lap.
‘It had to be punished. It stole things. It has to come off.’ She looks up at him. ‘It’s like the Arabs. If you steal, you lose your hand.’
‘Have you hurt yourself anywhere else? Apart from your hand and your cuts?’
‘How long’s that tourniquet been on, do you think?’
‘You’re not taking it off!’
‘I just want to know how long it’s been on, that’s all.’
‘About two hours.’
‘Okay, Casey. Okay.’
Frank stands up. He turns his back to Casey and looks at me intently, quietly slipping out a pair of shears from an inside pocket and handing them to me.
‘It’s coming off,’ he whispers. I nod.
He turns back to Casey and we both walk quickly over to her.
‘What are you doing? Fuck off.’
‘You’ll lose your hand, Casey. I’m sorry, darling, but the bandage is coming off.’
‘No! No! Don’t! Please!’
He has hold of her shoulders. I’m standing close in now so she can’t draw up her legs and kick me. The other two police officers hold her arms. She wrests beneath our control so violently it’s difficult to cut through the tourniquet without hurting her, but somehow I manage to work my way through the layers of material; one final cut, and it springs apart. We all relax our hold; she cradles her arm to her chest, crying and catching her breath in great, wretched sobs.
‘You promised! You promised you wouldn’t!’
‘I didn’t promise, Casey. I’m sorry we had to do it, but we were worried about your hand.’
‘I don’t want it.’
‘Sorry, Casey.’
Over the next few minutes she gradually regains control of herself. Frank speaks to the police officers about arrangements to take her to hospital.
‘I’m not going,’ she says. ‘Forget it.’
One of the police officers kneels down beside her.
‘Casey? You’ve got to go to hospital and that’s the end of it. You have two choices. Either you go with these ambulance guys, or you go in the back of a horrible old police van. That’s just the way things are. So – what’s it going to be?’
She thinks for a second, then slowly raises her eyes to look at me.
‘I’ll go’ she says. ‘But not with him.’


Outside, there has been a fresh shower of rain and the night seems colder. I walk on ahead of the group and make the back of the ambulance ready. As they approach, I make sure I’m out of the way as Frank and the police officer with Casey between them climb inside. I slam the door shut and go round to the driver’s side of the cab. When I turn the engine over, the radio comes on: You are the sunshine of my life.
I call backwards over my shoulder through the partition window.
‘Ready to go?’
‘Yeah, mate.’
I check the mirrors and turn the wheel.


SarahFrancesYoung said...

That's so sad.
She obviously felt guilty for the crime she had committed. She obviously has morals, but her head is in the wrong place.

jacksofbuxton said...

I think you may have to deal with a few more people like Casey once the Government cuts start to take effect.She needs some psychiatric help.

this made me smile.

jacksofbuxton said...

Another brilliantly written piece Spence.

Anonymous said...

OMG Spence, where does anyone start to try to make sense of that... sixteen, just a few months older than my son...

BB said...

What an absolute shame. So sad.

Spence Kennedy said...

SFY - Def think her head is in the wrong place. She was vulnerable and confused and desperately needed a safe place where she could find her feet again. Very sad.

JoB - I've been wondering (and worrying) what effect the austerity measures will start having. I mean, things were bad before...

Mark Steel's brilliant. Funny guy - but with a really incisive edge.

UHDD - I know. I feel the same. My eldest is only nine, but it gives me the shakes to think of her in any situation remotely as bad.

BB - That job upset me more than most. I absolutely hated using force like that - but the bandage had to come off. The look she gave me was awful.


Thanks for your comments! :)

Unknown said...

The story is sad in and of itself but the fact that she seemed to lose trust in you. had to be even more upsetting.

You seem to be the type of person whose very good at obtaining the trust of those you encounter on the job. Unfortunately, I don't think you could've done anything differently in this situation.

Spence Kennedy said...

I do like to think of myself as someone honest and open enough to earn trust, so it did hurt that Casey became very hostile towards me. I told myself not to take it personally - after all, she didn't know me. She was just focusing some of her anger and pain on whoever was around that might take it. But it did hurt, nonetheless. You're right, though. I don't think we could've done anything else.

Anonymous said...

omgtthat poor child needs help fast
I'm sure she will eventually forgive you (and be thankfull) for what you had to do
thank you for such a sensitive post
My love and best wishes to you all

OKinUK said...

They are beautiful, aren't they? The girl, the 94 year old man? The Polish couple, the frightened guy with the phone... they are us.

I'm so glad that you do what you do. Thank you for your compassion.

I hope that when it's my turn, that there will be an ambulance crew like you and Frank.

Spence Kennedy said...

Anon - I hope she does forgive us eventually. I'm confident she'll get the help she needs, but I think it might be a long and tough road to recovery.

Mollie - I think most front line staff are caring and compassionate, so your chances of getting someone decent are really high (btw - I hope you never need to put that to the test!) I'm not saying that out of loyalty (although obviously that plays a part). I just don't think you could do this job if you didn't genuinely care about people.


Thanks for your comments. Very much appreciated! :)

Liz said...

as a parent and an educator I have learnt that sometimes when the children hate me is when I am really doing my job right!

Spence Kennedy said...

I know what you mean, JW, and I take comfort from it! Thanks for the support (one parent to another...)

California Girl said...

Sometimes I'm afraid to linger here, afraid of what I'll read, knowing it's true. But you always bring humanity to the story. As sad as many of them are, you and your comrades keep trying. I admire you for this.

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks CG. So many of these situations are difficult, for one reason or another. Mental Health jobs are always likely to be difficult; if someone's been in an accident and hurt themselves, it's quite straightforward, in a way - but with MH, it's often part of a long-running picture with all kinds of consequences. It can feel as if you're fire fighting with little effect. But we do our best to add to the overall package of treatment and help.

Thanks for reading - and for the supportive comment, CG. :)

Anonymous said...

Spence, nicely handled. My father has been sectioned twice, the second time after an armed siege with police. I'm well aware of just how tough it can be striking the right balance between taking firm action for the safety of the patient (and others) and treating them with respect, understanding and dignity.

*Thumbs up*

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks, Anon - appreciate it.

I think in these extreme situations you just have to take a view at the time based on everyone's best interest and act on it. All the worrying about personal liberty is a luxury that can come later, when you've got the time!

Very sorry to hear your Dad's had such a tough time of it (and the rest of the family, of course). Hope he's doing okay these days.

Thanks again for the comment.

Brady Christenen said...

Truly sad and moving...very well done. Your stories are all so interesting! Here's a link to my blogs if you'd ever want to take a peek:

Brady Christenen said...

Truly sad and moving...very well done. Your stories are all so interesting. Here are links to my blog if you ever want to take a peek:

Spence Kennedy said...

Cheers BC. I'll def take a look.

Unknown said...

Very sad, poor girl must have been through so much in her short life. My youngest was 17 yesterday, he's working and collage, getting his life in order, so reading this story is scary. I hope Casey gets the correct help she needs. Long road for her though. Just makes me wonder how many others like Casey they will be with this new trend of smoking the weed!

Unknown said...

Ps: you Defo did the right thing with cutting the bandage of, bloody hurts though when you get a look! X

Spence Kennedy said...

It's awful to think what she must have been through to get to that stage. It's such a dreadful thing to do to yourself.

I knew the bandage had to come off, but I hated having to get physical like that. The issue of mental capacity is a tough one. Strictly speaking, we were probably guilty of assault... :/

Unknown said...

Mc is difficult to assess, but you had to get physical with her for her own wellbeing. On the other hand, if you didn't cut it of that would prob b classed as abuse as well as you dint act in the patients best interest! Red tape, you can't win!