Saturday, 9 April 2011

A Saturday in March

"Saturday,Saturday." I find myself humming an old Elton John tune as I head down the corridor, carrying a set of medical notes. Mind you, the only reason he found it all right for fighting  was that he'd never had to spend it in Casualty mopping up the mess. Down here with the drunks and druggies, who will conspire to ensure my Saturday night will be anything but pleasant.

The glass doors open, allowing me through to the waiting area. It's 9.30pm. The room is nearly full with punters sitting on pink and blue plastic seats, tending their injuries and illnesses under the white strip-lights. We're going to be busy tonight.

I call out "Emily Davies?"  There is no answer. I call again. It is not until I call for a third time, that a young girl, with tangled hair and a slightly dazed expression, responds. She is helped up from her chair by her friend. They hobble towards me like survivors in a bad disaster movie.

My heart sinks. The paper work says eighteen, but the girl is at least three years younger than that. I doubt Emily Davies is even her real name. Her friend doesn't look much older and is in almost as bad a state. Runaways, no doubt, who've all too quickly learnt the streets of London aren't paved with gold, but with broken glass and, from the looks of it, an unfriendly fist. Emily's right eye is swollen and will be purple by the morning. She has a seeping bandage wrapped around her forehead, her brown hair is matted with blood. Her skirt is ripped and she has bruises forming on her bare legs. Her friend is stroking her arm.They are both biting back tears. I call them through and they follow me into the small cubicle. I draw the tattered green curtain round to give us a modicum of privacy.

"Can I take a look at this Emily?" She nods, wincing as I take the gauze pad of the gaping wound. The triage nurse was right, this will need stitches. I clean the wound and put a fresh bandage on it for now.
 "That's nasty, how did it happen?"
"I fell."  Of course she did.
"It looks like someone hit you."
"She told you she fell." The friend snaps. She, too, has had a rough night. Her clothes are rumpled and her mascara is smudged.
"I can get you some help, you know." Emily raises her head, hopefully. Her friend presses her arm in warning.
"Honestly, it's all right. I fell in the street. Su...Sylvia, picked me up and got me here."
"OK." There's no point pushing it, "You didn't lose consciousness  then?" She shakes her head. "Right, well I'll send the nurse in to do those stitches, and we'll keep you under observation for a bit. Is there anyone we can call?"
"No, thanks."

I call Lucy over and explain what's necessary. "I'm a bit worried about her, I think I might call the police..."
"I'd wait a bit, see what I can find out. They might be more open with a woman. Besides, the police are a bit busy tonight." She nods up at the telly on the wall. The screen is filled with images of a smoking Trafalgar Square, rows of riot police and smashed windows in the West End. Of course, it was the march today. I'd been so busy I'd forgotten all about it.

I move on to the next patient, and the next. An hour passes before I catch up with Lucy again.
"They're all right."
"Did they tell you what happened?"
"Not really, but I honestly don't think you need worry."

 I'm not convinced. I return to their cubicle to repeat my observations. Lucy has cleaned Emily's hair, and the wound is neatly stitched.  Sylvia looks better now she has brushed her hair and they are both eating chocolate bars and swigging fizzy drinks. They seem much more cheerful.

"Any dizziness?" I ask.
"I'm fine, honestly. Can I go now?"
"Another hour, I think. Have you got somewhere to stay?"
"I'm going back to Su... Sylvia's."
"Is it far?"
"Tooting. We should still be able to get a Tube if you let us go soon."
"Are you sure you don't need the police? I saw a couple of PC's outside."
She winces again,as if I'd ripped her stitches open. Sylvia says, "NO cops."

It's puzzling, but I can't prove she's 15, that her name's not Emily, and I can't force the truth out of her.

"I'll be back in an hour."

Now the pubs have closed, the waiting room is noisier and fuller than before. Come to think about it, it's even fuller than usual. But before I can work out why, I'm called to the ambulance bay to treat a head injury patient. Ambulances are  flashing in and out of the bay discharging patients onto gurneys before screeching into the night.

"What's going on?" I ask a paramedic.
"It's a battleground out there. Police with batons, protesters with bricks. We're just ducking our heads and trying to get people to safety."

I haven't a moment to let this sink in. My head injury needs urgent attention, and after him there's a possible cardiac arrest. It is way past midnight by the time I get back to the girls.

The cubicle is empty.

"I think they just went," says the patient in the next  bed, who is waiting to be plastered. I run down the corridor in time to see them heading out of the front doors. I follow them into the March night, gasping at the sudden chill as my lungs flood with fresh air.

"Are you sure you're going to be all right?" I ask, noticing Sylvia's "No Poll Tax" badge, for the first time.
"We just want to go home," says Emily.
"Well, rest up, come back in a fortnight to check those stitches. And immediately if you feel sick."
"Will do, thanks."

I watch them walking off into the night. Lucy comes up to me.

"Do you think they'll be OK?"
"I think they just got caught up in it. We've patched them up and sent them home. They're safe enough now."
"How did you know?"
"Emily Davies, and Sylvia Pankhurst? Somewhat unusual pseudonyms don't you think?"
" I guess."

Another ambulance screams into the bay, and instinctively we both move towards it.

"Saturday, Saturday..."It's going to be a long old night.


Lou Freshwater said...

Nice work, especially the great dialogue. Love that last sentence, too.

Icy Sedgwick said...

You've really caught the feel of a casualty department, and nailed the sense of frenetic chaos. Great dialogue.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed this, thank you! Definitely a great description of Saturday night in the ED and the idea of the false names was a brilliant twist - fabulous!

Simon Million said...

Ah yes, the poll tax riots. I remember making way for a number of ambulances in Trafalgar Square that day. Great sunday morning read. Excellent dialogue.

John Wiswell said...

It is interesting how they shy away from any legal responsibility or intervention. I began it thinking she was a victim of domestic violence overlooked thanks to the rioting. Not so at the ending, though...

Laurita said...

The names the girls used is what really brought this home for me. Well done.

Anonymous said...

I don't think there'd be a doctor that concerned here in the US. The environment was set up nicely, I got a feel for the hectic nature of Saturday night. What does tooting mean in England? In the US it has a different meaning than how it was used.

Virginia Moffatt said...

Ah thanks for the comments folks. Glad it properly captured a night in Casualty (only seen it from the patient side!) Think I might have not given enough of a hint - in that they were hit by the police,not other protesters...

And Lara, Tooting is a place in South London - on the Northern line so these girls will get home safe.