Wednesday, May 18, 2005

We're Coming to Take You Away

An ever-increasing part of our workload these days consists of forcible psychiatric removals as the tide of madness spreads rapidly ever wider across England. So far south and east has it reached, in fact, that the Clapham Ambulance has formed the country's first dedicated squad of men specially trained for that sole purpose. The police aren't interested in this type of work anymore, arguing that such people are ill, not criminals, and therefore should not travel chained in a cage in the back of a Black Maria, but in the relatively dignified comfort of an ambulance. Obviously, those who hold such views haven't seen the inside of our new Psychiatric Transfer Unit vehicle. Albert Harness describes it as "Bedlam on wheels" and he has a point.

Sitting at the table enjoying an early dinner, the O'Garrity family appeared quite respectable, sophisticated even, not what we'd expected at all. Patrick, at the head of the table, poured wine for his wife of twenty years, Maureen, and their teenaged twins, Brendan and Brenda, who were permitted one glass each, and even baby Liam was allowed a small Guinness as tonight was apparently a special occasion of some sort. It was certainly going to be a night they would remember for some time. They looked so happy and so normal, a regular, loving family, as we watched through the front window from the street; it seemed almost a shame to ruin their evening, but control of these matters rests with a higher authority.

Although far ahead of its time in many respects, the Clapham Ambulance nevertheless is founded upon a bedrock of solid and ancient traditions which have survived more or less intact for two hundred years in the face of so-called progressive ideas in medicine, ethics and social policy and one of these traditions is the wearing of white coats to escort patients to secure psychiatric units. This time-honoured practice has fallen out of favour almost everywhere else; indeed even hospital doctors, once among the strongest proponents of the custom, now consider it beneath their dignity to be seen sporting the white overall. How sadly times have changed.

They all looked up simultaneously as Stan Tablets kicked the front door off its hinges and four large men in white coats burst in and surrounded them. Albert held up a sheet of paper and spoke in his most solemn and official voice.

"Patrick Aloyisius O'Garrity, under section one of the Lunacy in a Private Dwelling Act of 1837, you are hereby given notice that you are to accompany us, as representatives of His Majesty the King, to a place of incarceration with immediate effect."

O'Garrity was on his feet. "What on earth are you" Stan silenced him with a well-aimed blow to the solar plexus and Albert continued without missing a beat.

"We are charged by the Crown to escort and deliver you directly to the Clapham Lunatic Asylum without delay, where you will be detained at His Majesty's pleasure." Then Maureen decided to get involved and leapt up to protect her husband.

"You don't understand," she screeched. "This isn't " A Tablets one-two shut her up without further ado and she slumped to the floor unconscious. Albert and Bert seized O'Garrity, frogmarched him out the door and secured him in the back of the van. Stan and I resolved the rest of the family's objections with brisk efficiency before joining the others and driving away. From the back, the madman's protestations grew louder and more annoying as the journey progressed. Some people simply have no sense of dignity.

"My name is not O'Garrity!" he screamed again and again. "My name is not O'Garrity! I'm Charles Peterson! You've got the wrong man! You've got the wrong man!" On and on and on.

Give it a rest.

As the massive iron gates of the asylum opened before us, one of the most terrifying sights known to Man, O'Garrity's voice became shriller and more hysterical and he rattled his chains furiously in a frantic but hopeless attempt to break free. Albert turned to him and spoke in the calm and reassuring tones of reason and authority.

"Come on now, son, shape up. It’s not the end of the world, is it?"