Friday, November 29, 2013


Manning House has the glass and brick functionalism of a seventies telephone exchange, and it may once have been that. But now it serves as a hostel for rough sleepers, and if there are occasionally people to be seen sitting on the steps outside the door, smoking, their complexions are too blasted and their expressions too wasted for your average telephone engineer. Not that you see them outside for long, though. The staff controlling the entrance from their Plexiglas reception like to move them on pretty quick.

Lance has sliced the top of both his legs open. He is sitting with both legs raised and crudely bandaged, two members of staff standing right and left. He has a rolled cigarette between his bloody fingers, and waits patiently to be allowed to smoke it.
‘What did you use?’ I ask, shearing his blood-soaked jeans away.
‘The lid of a baked bean can. You know – the ring-pull kind. It’s pretty sharp, and you get a really nice grip.’
I’ve never thought about it before, but he’s right – it’s perfect. He’s neatly parted the flesh of his legs almost to the bone.
He stares down at his handiwork, the other side of some brutal, medieval practice that successfully opened a door and let the demons out.
As I’m re-dressing his wounds I ask about the other, older stripes on his calves and ankles.
‘I know,’ he says. ‘I’m sorry to waste your time.’
He fiddles with his cigarette, which adheres to his tacky fingers and almost tears.
‘Can I smoke this or what?’ he says.
‘Wait till you get outside,’ say the staff.


jacksofbuxton said...

An odd choice of weapon,but any port in a storm.

Can't quite see Heinz using it as an advertising slogan somehow.

Spence Kennedy said...

Maybe someone should tell the product development people.
Or maybe it was part of their presentation: Here we have a convenient can opening mechanism - which also doubles as an extemporary scalpel! :/

TomVee said...

Spence, O don't understand this - was he hurting himself out of a mental illness or did he do this to get into a hospital bed?

Spence Kennedy said...

Hi Tom

'Cutting' is a complex issue and even though we see quite a bit, I don't pretend to understand the psychology behind it. I think essentially it's a way of exerting emotional control. Not a 'cry for help' as such, and not a suicide attempt, either. Just an extreme form of coping mechanism. I think a lot happens in private, and gets covered up (physically & metaphorically). More often than not, after the cutting, the person is really calm.

Anonymous said...

As an paramedic (now) and former cutter (in my teens)... it was always a stress relief for emotional pain. "They're hurting me, but it's so bad on the inside. Aaah... Now it actually hurts, it's a real thing.... and I feel better." Calm afterwards is normal. The thing is to find a different way of expressing/ sharing your pain. And that's bloody hard. I never wanted to die, it was not so much a cry for help as a way to release negative emotions.
I always thought I'd find it hard to face in the job, but like most experiences it helps me approach patients who are in distress from a place of dispassionate empathy. BTW this is something I'm quite open about with colleagues and I know for a fact that patients have benefited.
Still horrified by the tin lid scalpel though, that gets a wince.

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks very much, Anon. That certainly helps me understand cutting better.

I have to say, if I was ever ill, I'd hope it was a paramedic like you who turned up.

TomVee said...

Hmm. Sounds to me like an effective, if rather destructive form of self-therapy. Wild idea: Given that psychology struggles with helping people who do this, what would happen if people who felt the urge to exert real pain upon themselves in order to cope with emotional pain were given an instrument that'd allow them to exert pain but without any lasting damage? A modified TENS-device comes to mind.

Kat Moss said...

As someone who has cut in the not too far past, I have been treated awfully by some in the medical profession. Not always, but most the time. Most people do see it as an attention seeking thing. Which it never has been. For me it is about exerting some sense of control and numbing the emotions.

I, think the way in which you talk about it, is very good. It's nice to see someone who doesn't think they understand, just because they have seen it numerous times.


Spence Kennedy said...

Tom - An interesting idea. Reminiscent of needle exchanges, where they allow IV users to shoot up cleanly & safely. I'm not sure if it would be effective, though. Again - no idea about the feelings behind cutting - but it could be that the whole business of the cut, the bleeding, the scarring even - maybe these are an important ritual part of it. That aside, product development & marketing might be problematic (Can't imagine any of the 'dragons' in the den saying they were in...)

Kat - Very sorry to hear you had some bad treatment experiences. Not making any excuses, but it's often just ignorance, exacerbated by the pressures of the job, which can narrow your field of vision under certain circumstances. I hope you're okay now & getting the help you need.

family Affairs said...

Are you seeing this more these days? I am aware of lots of young adults who do this now, didn't know any when I was the same age...maybe I was just oblivious - now it's the parents who talk to me about it and I recently saw a very good play about it but can't remember the name. Poor guy. Lx

Spence Kennedy said...


We see a fair bit, but no more than a few years ago I'd say. Before I worked in the ambulance I was never aware of the problem - maybe an indication how these things get 'swept under the carpet'. I think it'd help to have conversations about all these problems at school. (Along with basic first aid and CPR, but that's another story...!)

I wonder what the play was? If you remember, could you let me know?

Thx for the comment, FA :)