Thursday, October 06, 2011


Mrs Appleton is neatly arranged on her bed, a halo of silver hair on three plump and freshly laundered flowery pillows, legs straight out, arms by her sides. Her husband, a man as pale and soft as a button mushroom, ushers us into the room.
‘I’ve got these pains here – and here – all up here,’ she whispers. ‘I’ve been sick and dizzy with it.’
‘Sick and dizzy,’ echoes Mr Appleton. ‘Shall I get the diary?’
‘The doctors will want to see it,’ she says.
‘Okay, Mrs Appleton,’ Frank says, putting his bag down. ‘What’s been going on?’
‘Let me put you in the picture,’ she says, pushing herself a little further up onto the pillows and then sinking back into them and folding her arms across her chest. ‘In nineteen fifty five....’
‘No, I meant today. What led you to call the ambulance today?’
‘Well I had another episode.’
‘Of the sickness and dizziness?’
‘Any chest pain?’
‘Do you have any chest pain now?’
‘It’s more over this way. And round here. And here, but not so much.’
She hovers one of her hands across her middle, then places it quietly back beside her again.
‘Any shortness of breath?’
‘I’m always short of breath.’
‘Any pins and needles or numbness in your arms or hands or anywhere else?’
‘I do get that from time to time.’
‘How would you describe the pain? Is it a cramping sort of pain? A sharp stabbing thing? An ache?’
‘I couldn’t really say. But it’s there all right. On and off.’
‘And more in your abdomen than your chest, would you say?’
‘What do you mean by abdomen?’
‘I mean around here.’
‘What were you doing when it came on?’
‘Nothing. Just quietly lying here. Waiting for bed.’
Mr Appleton comes back in holding an old school exercise book.
‘Read this,’ he says. ‘It’ll explain everything.’
I briefly open the book. Its pages are stiff, crinkled up with age and the mass of close writing that covers them top to bottom, margin to spine. Diary entries, the first one back in the early seventies, detailing every ache and pain, giddy moment, bowel movement and vomiting episode.
‘There are more, but that’s the most up to date,’ says Mr Appleton. ‘Shall we take it with us?’
‘Yep,’ says Frank. ‘I know the doctors will be keen to see it.’
‘They’re wonderful,’ says Mrs Appleton. ‘Do you know – I called mine up the other day, just to tell him how well I felt.’
Frank raises his eyebrows and nods.
‘Let’s go,’ he says.


Outside in the A&E car park, we lean back against the safety railing like two glum, green birds roosting on a branch.
‘Did you know – of all the health professionals – doctors have the highest rate of alcoholism?’ says Frank, swallowing the last of his coffee, then tipping the dregs out onto the ground. He sighs, then stands to put his cup in the bin. ‘Any bleeding wonder.’


jacksofbuxton said...

Frank has,in his usual pithy way,summed things up rather nicely.

Ever long to be called out for something normal Spence?

(Obviously I'd rather you weren't called out at all,but you know what I mean!)

Spence Kennedy said...

Hi JoB

I'd say if an average shift was 10 jobs, at least 4 or 5 don't really need an ambulance - either the patient could make their own way, or see their GP, or simply take advice from NHS Direct. Of the remaining 5, 2 will be non-urgent but necessary - the put back to beds / non-inj. elderly falls, 2 will be medium to serious, and 1 serious. But that's a rough estimate. Some shifts you run from full-on job to job without any let up; other shifts are a continuous and sapping line of trivial cases. But that's the way it goes (frustratingly).

Of course, the blog gives a skewed view of my time on the ambulance. I'll tend to write up the jobs that stick with me - something about the circumstance, or some quote that really gets me. But most of our work is pretty straight forward and unremarkable (although you can look at anything and find some angle - that's why I still LIKE the job, because I'm fundamentally nosey like that).

And of course now that I've said "most of our work is straight forward" .... (cut to skidding petrol tanker / flaming Airbus / bus of nuns approaching a yawning sink hole... Note to self: stop watching disaster movies.

Jean said...

I was going to leave a comment but your wittiness here made me laugh and forget it!
Good job both ways. d:-)

Unknown said...

I wonder how old she was when she began documenting her medical history. I wonder what triggered that need.

I wonder if her husband was drawn to her appearance of frailty and illness from the beginning.

I wonder how many doctors I've visited that were completely tanked during my check up.

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks Jean! 8:)

Hey Nari - not that old, by the look of the diary. It is interesting to wonder what started it all off, that level of intense personal scrutiny. Her husband has obviously just been drawn in over time, and together it's become their dominating issue.

I've heard that stat about doctors, but I don't know if there's any research to back it up (it'd be diff to get them to admit to it...)

Anonymous said...

Gosh I don't know if I should laugh or cry really this is so sad.
I seem to remember that a while ago I think doctors were the smokers too - haha I can understand why.
Keep up the good work/writing.
Best wishes

Spence Kennedy said...

I think it's somewhere in the realm of 'making a profession of your illness'. I'm sure a GP would be able to tell you more ;)

Cheers Lollipop!

Blogging to Bless said...

I really want to know what happened in 1955!

Spence Kennedy said...

Nothing good, I'm guessing... :/