Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Suicidal Tendencies

One of the more disagreeable types of creature we have to deal with in the ambulance game is the persistent overdoser. These women, invariably drunk, will swallow a few harmless pills, usually their own psychiatric medication, and then phone for an ambulance. Some of them walk out meekly for a trip to the hospital, while others, depending on their audience, feel obliged to put up a show of foul-mouthed resistance for the sake of appearances. Naturally, we'd be perfectly happy to leave them to die in a pool of vomit, but unfortunately they never take a fatal dose of anything. Who knows what goes on in their minds and, frankly, who cares? They waste our time and your money and no one has been prepared to do anything about it. Until now, that is.

A new initiative has been launched by the Clapham Ambulance in conjunction with the A&E department at St. Bernard's in an attempt to tackle this age-old problem. The way it works is quite simple. Any patient taking more than one attention-seeking overdose is referred to the new Suicide Counselling Unit for follow-up counselling and treatment. The scheme will operate retrospectively so, as you can imagine, we have rather a large backlog to work through. This suits us well as it means we can pick and choose whom we visit.

A recent typical case was that of Molly O'Dee. A thirty-nine year old chronic alcoholic living in lonely squalour on the fourteenth floor of Lithium House on the Pavlov Estate, her nine illegitimate children, each by a different father, were taken into the care of Social Services shortly after birth and she never saw any of them again. Molly never worked a day in her life and survived entirely on state benefits, as do all of her children to this day. According to our records she called seventy-eight ambulances in the past year and was admitted to hospital forty-three times for treatment following self-administered, non-accidental drug overdoses. She was an inpatient at the Bowes-Lyon Unit twelve times over the past fifteen years and a sporadic attender at the day centre there. All this at great public expense and all this to no avail whatsoever. To society as a whole, for her entire life Molly was what a euphemistically inclined economist might call a negative contributor.

What a pleasure then to be able to help her.

I called at Molly's flat one night and ran through the various options with her, explaining the pros and cons of each, trying to help her reach a sensible decision. Her first three preferences were prohibited by cost, and because of her poor financial situation we had to look further down the scale at the less expensive solutions. We were making very little progress and Molly was starting to become uncooperative and increasingly abusive as she worked her way steadily through the cans of Special Brew in her refrigerator.

With an exasperated sigh, I wandered out on to the balcony to get some fresh air, to soothe my growing anger and to admire the view, which from up there was really quite beautiful. The lights were spread beneath me like multi-coloured jewels on a blanket of velvet; to the north the river sparkled and shimmered as if a living thing and I was overwhelmed by a feeling of peace and serenity. Then I looked down at the untaxed and uninsured cars parked carelessly on the concrete a hundred and twenty feet below.

"Molly," I called. "Come out here a minute. I've had an idea."