A friend at boxing asked about paramedicking, and it being St Patrick’s Day he alluded to how bad it might get at weekends dealing with hammer heads. I thought about it and realised I’ve worked a few weekends already and have yet to experience the drunken riots and violence of lore that make up so many news stories about why paramedics leave the profession, stories illustrated with images of women in high heels collapsing outside kebab shops. This isn’t the hubris of ignorance, no doubt I’m going to get my horrible fill of that, and a couple of folk who’ve fallen down in the pub or the club have ended up in the back of our bus, having drunk themselves into a stupor (although females don’t drink to excess, they fall down because their drink’s been spiked – the five pints and 10 Zambuckas and MDMA tab aren’t why their irises are like dinner plates and they can’t stand up).
But so far the real boozers haven’t come fists flying on a Friday night. They come at midday on a Tuesday, or at 5 am on a Thursday. The solitary drinkers, complaining of stomach ache, seering, stabbing stomach pain, or pain on their left flank, blood in the vomit. They’re not out with friends in cool bars, having a laugh or getting laid, they’re alone in homes like cess pits, drinking cheap beer, whiskey, or 3-litre blue bottles of white lightning cider in flats they co-habit with mould, cat shit and filth.
As the first glimmer of dawn cracks the horizon, we arrive with swelling eyelids at a depressing 1970s estate of houses and small flats. We’re looking for a flat, we press the bell a few times and eventually are buzzed in. The flat door is ajar, we push it open with trepidation like the scene in Jaws when they find Ben Gardner’s boat at night, following a trail of destruction and detritus leading to a body. We hear the voice, usually a single male, bent over in agony, bottles strewn around a dingy room without carpet, having had yet another of the most depressing one-person parties and now begging for morphine. Crap everywhere, Rizlas, baccy, heaving ashtrays, crisp packets, Pot Noodles, a bowl of sick, prescriptions, maybe a dirty T-shirt of an AA-type support group that’s evidently not working, a file of ASBOs and warning letters from the council. It’s well known, it’s official to any number of authorities: They’re ‘alcohol dependent’.
Two big bottles of the big blue bottle cider seems to be the mainstay of a few of them, the daily baseload of six litres of this industrial effluent. It’s so potent you could drive a scooter off it, but in fact you couldn’t because it’d corrode the engine as soon as hit it. But two bottles gets them where they need to be, this state of non existence, this weird prolonged suicide fuelled by this disgusting piss, that they give to themselves both barrels.
Each day they drink away is a day lost, then it becomes two days, a day to drink then a day to recover, then three days, then four for the day they’ve taken off their life. Pancreatitis, cirrhosis, perfarated ulcers, GI bleeds, stomach cancer, bowel cancer, pancreatic cancer, strokes, MIs, ‘wet brain’. Once the pancreas is shot through they’re looking at diabetes and rotting toes. They’ve often already got one of these diseases, but are lining up for more as they line up the next glass of alien acid. Unbelieveable amounts of physical pain they’re lining up for themselves, even if they do sober up then they are physically wrecked and get to spend their shortened lives reflecting on the hell they’ve created for themselves, and others. People in their 40s who look like they’re in their 60s, and it’s a bloody awful 60 years at that. And yet you know they’re not going to make 50.
They don’t always drink alone, they have boozing buddies. I wanted to say to one once, these people are not your friends. Look at the state of the shithole they let you live in, the shittiness of which they regularly contribute to. They’re not your friends as in they like you, or care about you, they don’t even know you because they’re as pissed as you are. They hang out with you because you provide a venue for them to get hammered in, that’s all, a warm room and like-piss-minded company instead of sitting out in the cold getting tutted at by passers-by or at home being berated by furious or weeping partners and family.
Sometimes the family is there, raging or breaking down, but often the family is mentioned as some ‘other’ who lives not far away but maybe hasn’t been seen in weeks, months or years, and the most bizarre and inane of arguments lies at the heart of it, or there’s an allusion to a colossal act of booze-inspired violence that ended a relationship or killed a career.
Or the family is there as a son or daughter who’s taken after their errant parent and is also smashed out of their minds. Maybe there’s a picture of a baby not seen in a year, which helps fuel their anger and hate, regret, self-loathing. Self-loathing that has also led to years of self-harm by cutting themselves they have arms or legs like birch trees, so they drink to obliterate the pain, but instead only rot their organs, their lives, their souls. At heart there is some epic hurt, something really did them in somewhere along the line, but it’s not being expurgated, exorcised, dealt with at all, it’s just being drowned out by drink, and yet the pain worsens, like a cancer, feeding off the drink as its roots spread throughout the mind and spirit while the organs are killed off.
The solo drinkers can game it sometimes, call in with reports of ‘coffee granules’ in their vomit, med speak for a GI bleed serious enough for an ambulance and its cargo of oromorph, or a trip to morphine HQ in A&E. The patient has picked up this phrase and uses it in their pitch to 999. They may also now know at A&E is another drug for this or that that they’ve found when mixed with drink transports them to an utterly new paradigm of shitfaced. The shamelessness with which they invite professional medics, but strangers, into their homes just so they can get a fix, such is the warping power of the drug.
Sometimes though they don’t want us to take them to A&E, because they don’t have enough money for a taxi to get back. But they have enough for six litres of acid a day, plus tabs, plus bad food. What did you call us out for, at great cost to other patients who are genuinely ill with ailments they didn’t inflict upon themselves, at great cost to the hospital, taxpayers, in fact, everyone out there who has a life, everyone other than you who’s taken it upon yourself to chuck away your single shot at existence.
What do you want?
But they’re still people, ill people, who’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere and got into the Mother of all bad habits. All of them you think, you could turn this around, you can stop this, it is possible. It’s going to hurt, you’re going to be mortified by what you’ve wasted, by what you’ve done, you’re going to remember what others have long remembered and will never forget, things that made them forget you. But you can still do it, there’s still time.
But some of them you think, in fact you know, they’re not going to make the next decade.
And just like when coming across Ben Gardner’s boat, you stand there agog, and ask aloud, ‘what happened?’