Thursday, September 29, 2005

Unarmed Man No. 89

One of the easiest jobs any ambulanceman can hope for in the course of a shift is that of attending an armed incident to hang around just in case someone gets injured. It's very rare that shots are fired and anyway, when the police shoot people they tend to kill them quite decisively, thus presenting the ambulanceman with very little work to do apart from a quick courtesy confirmation, perhaps an application of the Pierrepoint, and a bit of paperwork. Sometimes though, things don't go entirely to plan.

Silverspoon Avenue is in the better part of Clapham and as such is somewhere we rarely go. It's one of those curious facts of life that respectable people simply don't call ambulances - or perhaps that's just the ambulanceman's criterion for defining respectability - and to be sent to an armed incident in this leafy quarter was very unusual indeed. Even more unusual was to be summoned by the firearms unit to attend to a living patient, who turned out in this instance to be a fifteen-year-old boy who'd been gunned down in his own bedroom and miraculously was still breathing.

On examination, as we say in the ambulance game, he was found to have bullet wounds to both shoulders and massive bruising to the central chest area where a third bullet had been deflected by a now disintegrated mobile phone that had been hanging from a string around his neck, and which almost certainly saved his life. In his hand was a green plastic toy gun of some sort. He was fully conscious and lucid and I asked him what had happened.

"Ize messin abow ly wimmee wawpista inni wender doh burstidopin an tree coppaz cum in ginnit aw der ole drop yo weppun an ting inni ly - ize ly waw man woss gonon ly en denday fyud inni."

"I see," I replied, which literally was perfectly true in that my vision was unimpaired, but perhaps misleading in that I was giving the impression of possessing some sort of understanding of what he was saying. Luckily I had an interpreter to hand, a teenage boy who now accompanies crews on calls where people between the ages of ten and twenty are involved and translates their alien gibberish into a comprehensible version of English. An invaluable addition to the workforce, I have to say.

What the youth was trying to tell me was that he'd been larking around with a water pistol and the police burst in and shot him when he pointed it at them. Apparently some passer-by had seen him through the window and mistaken his toy gun for the genuine article and promptly called the police who, unable to restrain themselves, had opened fire; but fate had intervened on the boy's behalf and he'd been quite extraordinarily lucky, if being shot in the comfort of your own home can be considered in any sense fortunate.

I turned to the inspector who was hovering anxiously in the doorway and informed him that the boy's injuries were not life-threatening and that he'd probably make a full recovery. This information had a contrary effect to that which I was expecting and served not to diminish but rather to increase the inspector's perturbation and he began rubbing his chin thoughtfully and asked us if we'd step outside for a moment. He consulted with some of his colleagues in whispers, a nod here and a smile there, some sly laughter, a murmur of concurrence, and then he entered the bedroom and closed the door. After a few seconds the quiet of the genteel suburb was rudely disturbed by the sound of between fifteen and twenty gunshots; I lost count after about twelve. Then the door opened and the inspector, looking much more at ease, asked me with a smug grin if I would care to re-examine the patient and perhaps revise my earlier diagnosis.

I looked closely and at great length and could discern only two notable discrepancies. Firstly, on the pillow where the boy's head had been there was now just a bloody mess of splintered bone and shredded meat with flaps of skin around the edges and a few teeth here and there; and secondly, gone from his hand was the green water pistol and in its place lay what looked like a real gun, big and black, heavy-looking and metallic, with a wisp of blue smoke drifting lazily upwards from its barrel.