Monday, April 25, 2011

a half too far

Gary is standing outside the pub, arguing with a woman, waving his stick in the air and almost being carried over backwards by the rucksack on his back. She sees the ambulance first and steps to one side to wave us over. He stands where she left him, planting his stick back down on the pavement and blinking owlishly in the harsh midday sun.
‘He’s soiled his-self’ she says as I climb out of the cab. ‘The taxis don’t want to know.’
‘Okay. Are you a relative?’
‘A relative?’ She tips her chin up and laughs like a crow. ‘A relative?’ But then the humour of it leaves her as suddenly as it came. ‘I’m a friend,’ she says. ‘If that.’
We walk over to Gary.
‘What’s happened?’ I ask him.
‘What’s happened? I’ve shit me-self, mate, that’s what’s happened. Look at me. What a state. I stink. It’s disgusting. What’s wrong with me?
‘I don’t know, Gary. Have you vomited at all?’
‘Only the usual brackish whatsits every morning, like. But this – oh, it’s disgusting. The taxis took one look at me and drove off. That’s not very nice, is it?’
‘Let’s get you on the ambulance and see what’s what, shall we?’
‘Urgh,’ he says, walking like an old cowboy beside me, a dreadful dark stain spreading across the seat of his jeans and down each leg.
The Easter throng magically parts around us right and left.

Frank has placed a line of inco pads down the trolley; Gary manoeuvres himself delicately into position.
‘I’m not in trouble, am I?’ he says, hauling each leg up individually. ‘What are they going to do to me? I was only there yesterday.’
‘What for?’
‘What’s that?’
‘I say – what were you up at the hospital for yesterday? Incontinence?’
‘No, mate. I fell over and cut me face.’
Behind the filthy oval panes of his glasses I can see scuff marks and steri-strips around one of his eyes.
‘Was that drink related, too?’
‘I’m a diagnosed alcoholic. It’s all drink related, mate.’
‘How much have you had today?’
‘I just went in for a quick half and then this happened. They wouldn’t serve me any more and threw me out. I hope they don’t charge me for the chair.’
His friend leans in at the door to say goodbye.
‘See you later, Gary,’ she says, drawing her lips back and exposing a landfill of rotten teeth. ‘Look after him,’ she says, and slams the door shut.


At the hospital, the air in the department is bright and relaxed. There is a sparkle of freshness about the place, a dreamy vista of empty beds, cleaners wiping surfaces with a Tai-Chi level of focus, a domestic wheeling a trolley of coffee, tea and perfectly aligned biscuits – the only thing lacking is birdsong, and a line of cherry trees scattering white blossom as I walk down the corridor to the desk. The charge nurse is chatting pleasantly with her colleagues and a couple of young doctors; they all look up and smile as I approach.
‘What have you got for us?’ she says.
The further I get with my story, the darker their collective expression grows. I feel as if I have committed a terrible error of judgement, like a leper trying to interest them in a new sandwich round. There is a shocked pause after I finish my handover.
‘Side room one,’ says the charge nurse finally, screwing up her nose as she spins my board round to get the surname. I want to reassure her Gary didn’t touch the board.
‘Where did you say you found him?’ she says.
‘In a pub on the high street.’
‘God,’ says one of the young doctors. ‘Which one?’

We load Gary onto the bed in the side room. He puffs and blows, his slack red cheeks flapping in and out beside the dreadful aperture of his mouth.
‘I stink,’ he says. ‘What’re they going to do to me?’
‘I don’t know Gary. Make sure you’re okay.’
‘Look at me.’
‘I know. It’s just the way it is.’
‘What’s wrong with me?’
‘I think it’s probably drink related.’
‘But I only had a half a lager.’
‘Did you have anything this morning?’
‘Well I had the usual but that was it.’
‘What’s the usual?’
‘Thirteen cans. But you see – I’m a diagnosed alcoholic.’
‘Anyway, Gary. Here’s your stick. The doctor will be with you shortly.’

In fact, things are so quiet that the doctor goes into the room as we’re outside cleaning the trolley. The door to the examination room is propped open with a chair and I can overhear the consultation.
‘Good afternoon to you. I’m Doctor Enderby.’
‘Hello, Doc. I was only up here yesterday,’ says Gary, pleasantly.
‘Oh yes? And why was that?’
‘I fell over. I’m a diagnosed alcoholic.’
‘Okay. I see. Mm. And can you tell me what has happened to you today, please?’
‘Yes I can. I’ve shit me-self.’

We wheel our trolley out through the automatic doors into sunshine.


BB said...

Not good is it? Losing control like that. What happens to someone like that? It's obvious he can't take care of himself. Over here they'll send him on his merry way probably.

Larry Lard said...

"I feel as if I have committed a terrible error of judgement, like a leper trying to interest them in a new sandwich round." - genius line, 'actually lol' as the kids say...

tpals said...

Reading blogs and news, sometimes it sounds like drinking is the national pastime in the UK.

Alan said...

It's nice to see you showing the glamorous side of the job for once. ;-)

Spence Kennedy said...

BB - I wonder what'll happen to him, too. I think he must be in the advanced stages of liver disease. Dreadful, really!

LL - It's very difficult to sell a patient like that to the nursing staff. And although it was unpleasant enough sitting in the back with him, I'm not the one who's going to be stripping him down and sorting him out... :/

tpals - Unfortunately alcohol probs are a big deal here. We see a lot of it. I wish it were otherwise - I mean, I like a drink, but... :/

alanainwig - And these are the edited highlights (lowlights)! I do have a funnier, lighter one to write out, but I'm worried it's just too identifiable...


Thanks v much for the comments. Happy Easter! :)

Susanne said...


You write beautifully. I came across your blog a few weeks ago, and having read one entry, I went back and read them all. It was worth every minute it took.

You paint in the background with bold strokes -- the sea, the sky, the shore. You clothe them in grass, hedges, trees, shingle, roads, paths, buildings. Then you add the details - weather, seasons, bird cries.

When my world has gone to sleep but I cannot join in, I silently curl around the glow of the tiny screen. With the warm weight of the cat against my leg, I read each piece. Like "The Illustrated Man", each scene comes into focus and the people begin to move and speak. The story unfolds, and then another takes its place.

Hours later, sluggish with all I have seen, I stretch and suddenly realize I have been changed. There is a tiny beating heart in my palm, my arm aches from hugging a terrified child close, my hair is wind blown and my cheeks are striped where my tears have run through the black from the smoke. In my mind, tiny fragments glitter like broken glass -- "just coming into their own", "a strange starfish", "linking arms", "missing the artery". I have been changed forever. Please keep changing me.

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks v much Susanne!
Blimey - How much do I owe you for that?
Hmm. But I'm suspicious.... Mum? Is that you? ;0)

Mike said...

All blue lights, wails, yelps, and exitement?
Might be an idea to get a wider audience for what your job is really about.
With talk of big cuts coming, who is going to do the *real* work that you guys do now?

Susanne said...

If your Mum can write anything like you do, we'd know where you got it! How did you wind up as an English teacher?

Spence Kennedy said...

Mike - I'm not sure there really is a wider audience for this stuff. (I'm amazed so many people read the blog as it is!) So much of the job has a large social component - from care of the elderly, MH issues to alcohol and drugs - the vast Kingdom of Acopia, which we spend a lot of our time running about in. We're a safety net, half the time - necessary as hell, but not particularly glamorous!

Susanne - At the time I thought I needed a career rather than just another job, so I tried teaching. :/ Much, much more stressful than the ambulance, so I didn't last long!

Mrs M said...

Spence, I love it that there's another bad advert for English teaching out there. Six this morning I was up to my elbows in someone else's body fluids at a homebirth. The father turned to me and asked what possessed me to come out all night after a full day's work to end up contorted into strange positions listening to a baby's heart while the labouring mother nearly pulled my scrubs trousers down for the ninth time as she grabbed for the nearest thing at the height of a contraction.

"Beats teaching," I said.

Couldn't do your job for a big clock though.

Spence Kennedy said...

Hey Mrs M!

I had to leave teaching (apart from the gross professional misconduct thing) when a colleague said I should tough it out for the first five years because after that it got easier.

So enormous respect due to any teachers out there - and to you, too, for the midwifery thing. An amazing job.

Baglady said...

Fab stuff Spence. Poor sod, though he sounds resigned to it all. I love the implication that even though he had shat himself he wanted more drinks. Crazy brilliant.

Hope he's okay, washed up and back out there now.

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks Baglady

He was a funny guy - more indignant than worried, and more upset about not being served / the taxi not taking him. Hopelessly underestimating how much he was drinking, too - his background level of alcohol, hardly worth mentioning, was a colossal amount.

God knows what they did with him at the hospital. Help him get cleaned him up, and then hopefully a relative would rock up with some clothes. The longer prognosis not great, though!

jacksofbuxton said...

Hope you had a good Easter Spence.


OK,so Gary is aware that he's an alcoholic (or more likely he's just aware of the diagnosis and thinks it's under control.)So what help is being given to him?He's going to be an expensive burden for the tax payer in the long run so why isn't he in a recovery unit?People with drug addiction issues (and it is a drug,and probably does considerably more harm than someone shooting up,how many domestic abuse cases have involved a doper in comparison to a drinker)need help,not keep allowing them to make the same mistakes.

There's a good chance Gary could end up in front of the local beak through some petty theft charge to fund his habit.Spend some money on getting him off the sauce instead.I've never understood why some drug addict that's nicked a car stereo ends up with a short term sentence,get him off the habit.

I read fairly recently that the majority of people in prison are there for some drug related crime (dealing,theft to fund the habit etc etc) now it's obvious that these people are caught in a vicious circle,so end the bloody thing by helping them.


Spence Kennedy said...

Hi JoB. Happy Easter to you, too.

Hey - nice rant.

I absolutely agree. I don't know what help Gary is currently getting (it was a short ambulance ride and I was driving anyway), but whatever it is, it doesn't seem to be working over much. Help is def needed, though - and it's worrying that schemes to help addicts of all descriptions are now subject to such ruthless cuts. (It'll only impact further up the chain, so not a great saving, either). :/

Blair Ivey said...

13 cans for breakfast!? That's not alcoholism, it's attempted suicide.

Spence Kennedy said...

All I can say is - he must get up early!

Anonymous said...

Bookworm said
13 cans for breakfast, how many for dinner and tea?

Spence Kennedy said...

And that's just a normal weekday...! :/

bookworm said...

bookworm said it is very sad that he needs to drink so much just to keep going with his life

Spence Kennedy said...

Yep. Addiction's a dreadful thing - ends up completely taking over your life. And so easy to find yourself in that position, too. It's like Jacks of Buxton was saying - there has to be a programme of specialised help for people in Gary's situation.

Thanks for the comments, BW.