Sunday, August 19, 2012


Four o’clock in the morning and the clubs are running down. The front is raggedly populated, with gangs of bare-legged girls screaming and laughing, scraping along on heels or tip-toeing barefoot, holding on to each other, or draped whale-tailed over barriers, huddled up in doorways, smoking, watching, as a pressed rage of guys in shirts and smiles as hard as their haircuts pick through it all, or run the taxis like the bulls at Pamplona, bellowing and swearing, with nothing in their heads but the pursuit of the quick and hectic brilliance of their lives; challenging, foraging, extending their sex or their violence into every cell and corner, their who-gives-a-shit, their what-the-fuck, whilst above it all a holographic host of seagulls skims the outer reaches of the street lamps, riding in from the sea now, moving in to pick over the cartons and the carcasses.

We turn into a quieter tributary.

 Half way up on the left hand side a tall man in a light blue tracksuit top is standing in the middle of the road, smoking a cigarette. He makes no sign that he’s the one we’re looking for, but simply turns and steps back onto the pavement between two parked cars. We draw level and get out.
He is standing over a much smaller guy who is lying on his back on the pavement. He has his hands folded in his lap and his legs neatly placed side by side with the toes up, like an alabaster knight on a tomb – except instead of armour he has a Fred Perry Tee and chinos, and instead of a helmet, a boy-band haircut.
The tall man stares down at him, and carries on smoking.
‘So – what’s been going on?’ I ask them both.
Adam, the smoker, tells me.
‘We’ve both taken Ketamine. Simon’s had a bad reaction to it. I think it’s messing with his bi-polar. He said he wanted to kill himself and started acting all weird. He’s not safe. I think he needs taking to hospital.’
Simon opens his eyes.
‘I took Ketamine, okay? Is that a crime? All I want to do is go back to my hotel room – the hotel room in my name – tuck myself up in bed and go to sleep. What’s wrong with that? Isn’t that the law? Aren’t I free to go back to the room I’ve paid for?
I squat down next to him.
‘Simon. Don’t worry, mate. All we want to do is make sure you’re okay. We’re not going to do anything you don’t want to do.’
Adam sighs and turns a little to the side, as if he can’t bear to hear these things square on. ‘No, man,’ he says. ‘You don’t get it. Why do you think I called you? He’s tripping, yeah? He’s out of it. You didn’t see him. You didn’t see what he was like.’
Simon pushes himself up onto his arms and throws his focus around.
‘Leave me alone!’ he says. ‘Just leave me alone! God! All I want is to get some sleep.’
‘Well you can’t very well lie in the middle of the pavement like this,’ I say. ‘Why not come onto the ambulance – we won’t go anywhere. We won’t even shut the door if you don’t want. Let us make sure that everything’s okay, then we’ll think about getting you to bed.’
‘He’s not coming back with me,’ says Adam, quietly. ‘He’s not. I’m not accepting the responsibility. He’ll throw himself out of the window, or some shit. He needs locking up. Why the fuck do you think I called you?’
He takes a step backwards and smokes intently, looking up and down the street as if he expects something more effective to turn up.
‘Simon – you can see how worried Adam is, can’t you? We’ve never met before, so obviously we’ve got no way of knowing how you are in yourself normally. But Adam is a good friend – yes? – and he says he’s worried that the Ketamine has had a bad effect on you. We don’t care what drugs you’ve taken. We just want to reassure ourselves that you’re okay.’
Simon staggers up to his feet and almost pitches backwards through a shop window. I grab his collar to keep him upright.
‘Jesus Christ!’ says Adam – but still with that icy remove, as if he were phoning his anger in from a long way away. ‘See what he’s like?’
‘I’m fine!’ shouts Simon, pushing my hands away and standing swaying with his legs planted far apart and a line of saliva swinging from his bottom lip. ‘I’ve had some alcohol, and I’ve had some Ketamine. Fine. Big fucking deal.’ He wipes his mouth with the back of his hand and frowns, seeing me for the first time. ‘What do you know about it?’ he says. ‘Have you ever taken Ketamine?’
‘I’ve taken drugs before but not Ketamine. I’ve always stayed away from those hard-core psycho-tropic ones. I was always a bit worried how they’d affect me.’
‘Yeah. Well. I’m fine.’
A group of four drunk guys, shirts unbuttoned and untucked, bottles in their hands, strolls up the street and slows to see what the scene is. Adam immediately flicks his cigarette at them, steps off the pavement with his arms out to the side and his palms out.
‘What the fuck are you looking at?’ he says, as quietly as ever, but with such an edge to his voice that even the four drunk guys are appalled. ‘Do you think is the fucking TV? Come and  have a good look, then!’ he says. ‘Come on!’
They carry on walking.
Adam turns his attention back to us.
‘So what are you going to do?’ he says.
‘I’m not going to hospital!’ wails Simon. ‘They’ll section me and I’ll go to the cells. And then my mum’ll hear about it, and I’ll lose my job.’
‘What do you do, then?’ I ask him, trying to smother his fire with banality.
‘I sell carpets,’ he says. ‘I’m good. You could carpet the world with what I’ve sold.’
‘That’s a lot of carpet,’ says Rae.
‘Please!’ he wails. ‘I only came down here to forget about things. But that bitch sold me that fucking K and I swear I’m never taking it again. All I wanted was a good time, some alcohol, a little drugs, maybe a vagina I could park my thing in then get to bed and get some fucking sleep.’ He straightens up unsteadily and looks about. ‘Where are the vaginas? There must be vaginas round here somewhere. What about an escort agency? I bet you know where there’s an escort agency. No? I bet you do.’
‘Come on, Simon,’ says Rae, stepping forwards and resting her hand on his shoulder. ‘Look. Here’s the thing. Adam says he’s not happy taking you back to the hotel in the state you’re in – no! Just hear me out. Adam knows you very well and he’s worried about the effect the Ketamine has had on you. So here’s what I think. You’re exhausted and you need some sleep. God knows I sympathise. So why not come with us to the hospital and sleep it off there? You’ll be surrounded by doctors and nurses who can keep an eye on you and make sure you’re okay. Okay? They’ve seen every variety of drug you can think of. They’re well used to all this, so you don’t have to worry. And no-one need ever know. How about it? Come on, Simon – you know it makes sense. And  face it – how are you getting back to the hotel anyway? It’s too far to walk, and no taxi is going to take you like this.’
‘No!’ he says, and staggers away down the road.
‘Aren’t you going to stop him?’ says Adam. ‘Fuck sake! What’s the point of calling you if you don’t do anything?’
Before we have a chance to explain, Adam strides away after his friend, grabs him in a bear hug and pulls him to the pavement. The two of them thrash around, Simon screaming, Adam as cold as ever.
Rae sighs and talks to Control on the radio to update the police. Control tells us the police are tied up with a massive fight on the front and don’t have anyone to assign. By this time, Adam has given up trying to hold Simon down. Simon stands up, straightens his shirt, then carries on walking. With one last look in our direction, Adam follows on behind.


Two hours later and the sky is sufficiently light now to say the night has passed. We’re sitting slumped in the cab in the middle of town, dozing with the radio on, waiting for that one last job to finish us off.
I open my eyes and see a slight figure walking across the road just in front of the ambulance.
I open my eyes a little wider.
His hands are jammed in his pockets, and he walks purposefully, at a precarious dog-trot, his chin out and forwards as if an invisible lead was pulling him along from the neck.
He doesn’t see us.
He doesn’t see anything.

In fact, I think he’s asleep.


Beautiful Things - Cathy said...

I think the first paragraph is probably one of the best descriptions I've read of club closing time in a long while. x

Henry said...

Lovely writing here Spence. Very vivid.

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks v much, BT & H! It's quite an epic time when the clubs kick out. Esp. on a hot night... :/

jacksofbuxton said...

Of all the different things you can do with your patients,would shutting them up be the most welcome?

Spence Kennedy said...

Well as you know Jacks, I like to chat. But not so much at half two in the morning after having already worked eight hours, the prospect of four more, surrounded by p**d clubbers shouting advice and a crazy friend trying to persuade me that it's actually the patient who is crazy.. so yes, it absolutely would! :/

Anonymous said...

Great post! :) I work in a large A&E dept. Weekend nights/mornings are HELL on earth so I sympathise entirely! As well as the violence and uncooperative patients there's the fantastic amount of sick. Paramedics and Techies get the frontline vomit. By the time they reach department there's a cardboard bowl or a suction catheter at the ready! Verity

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks v much, Verity.
It is pretty grim in A&E over the weekends, sometimes (often-times). I've got a very clear image of one of the charge nurses - one of the really cool and self-possessed ones - coming out of resus, seeing me standing next to a drunk teenager on the ambulance trolley, and a look of profound despair passing over him. He said something like: I swear, if I have to deal with one more drunk tonight ... but then shrugging, taking a breath and carrying on. I really felt for him. At least in the ambulance we get to move on (once we've mopped out the back). :/

Bobbi said...

The descriptions are so vivid; it's like I'm watching your shift over your shoulder. One the drunk score, there's one particular duty we do regularly with St. John where people seem to deliberately go just to get drunk, so we drag them into the unit, wrap them in blankets and foil blankets, maintain their airway for them and fetch them friends/relations/a means of getting home, and they cough, slur a sentence of overlapping words at us, raise their eyes to the people who plucked their passed-out body off the cold ground and spirited them into a warm, safe unit... And vomit all over said warm unit. Sigh. Mop. Repeat. Happens so many times each duty that I've developed a real irritation with drunk people bothering the NHS - just the drunks from this one duty would fill the local A&E, and there's nothing wrong with them that several hours sleep in a warm, safe place with a watchful friend looking after them won't fix.

Sorry, rant over, I got a bit carried away there!

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks v much for the comment, Bobbi - and for taking care of business in the safe unit. It's such a bonus to have those places. It helps reduce the strain enormously, both on the ambulance and the hospital. I just wish the drinkers would go out and enjoy themselves with a little bit more responsibility and forethought. If you know you're going out to get completely smashed, it wouldn't take much to pre-plan a way home or a place to stay.

But I suppose one upside to all this is that you often see friends who'll stay with the patient, even spending hours in A&E with them. One girl, 18yo, was doing just that. I asked her if this had ever happened to her friend before and she said yes, two weeks ago! Hmm.

One of the ironies is that there's never been so much help available for people who've had too much to drink - and never has the problem been so acute! I know alcohol is probably cheaper now than ever before, but even so I can't help wondering if the two are connected.

Cheers Bobbi (sorry - unfortunate sign-off)