The police officer met us outside the station. Both ourselves and the FRU had driven fast through the traffic to reach the station. To be honest, our driving fast may have been because we we due off shift in around twenty minutes. We don't like having to go home late.
“Sorry gents”, the officer apologised, “we nicked him for shoplifting, then he said he had difficulty in breathing and our Doc said he's not fit to detain”.
“No worries mate”, I told him, “where is our punter”.
The officer pointed to a dishevelled man sitting on the bench.
“He's a heroin addict”, the officer told me.
Never mind, I thought, do the necessary and pop him into hospital no skin off my nose.
The man, our patient, stood up and gathering his things walked towards me.
“What seems to be the problem?”, I asked.
The man then proceeded to puff air out his mouth in what I can only describe as the world's worse attempt to fake an difficult. I took a step back to get away from the cone of foul smelling junkie breath that washed over me.
“I. Can't. Breath.” He whispered between puffs. “Asthma.”, he added as a coda.
“That ain't what asthma sounds like”, I told him, “C'mon out to the ambulance. Is he still under arrest?”, I asked the officer.
“Nope, we bailed him – he's free to go”.
Once we got in the ambulance, the man's attitude changed completely – from apparently being unable to breathe he started to breathe normally and a big grin spread over his face.
“So”, I asked, knowing the answer before the question left my lips, “How long have you had problems with your breathing”.
He cackled, “Since I got arrested”.
“Are you telling me you faked it?”, I asked, again not needing to hear the answer.
“Yeah, well I wouldn't have got bail would I?”.
Images of murder flashed through my head, lingering a little longer than normal on the incredibly painful ones.
I took a deep breath. Then another one because the first one didn't calm me.
“What does it say on the side of this ambulance”, I demanded.
“Ambulance?”, he said.
“It says 'Emergency', not 'get out of jail free'. It's a good job you convinced the doctor, otherwise I'd march you right back in the for wasting my time.”
“Why would you do that?”, he whinged, “that's not very nice”.
“Because, you idiot, I could be going to someone who is really sick, not someone who's faking it to get out of trouble”. I didn't add that I could have escaped going home late after a twelve hour shift with no break as well.
I continued, “All my patients today have been lovely, but you had to go and ruin a pleasant day”.
“Don't be like that”, he whined.
I decided to spend the rest of the journey in silence. Just in case I said something that I would later regret. It was obvious that this person's universe began and ended with him. Consideration of other people just wasn't in his programming. It was this that made me angry, not the thought that he considered himself smart enough to fool us into treating him.
I still did all the clinical things that I would be expected to do, but instead of my normal kind words and a gentle explanations I did them in silence. Quite literally biting my tongue.
We got to the hospital where he tried lighting up a cigarette in the waiting room – until I told him to take it outside. You could almost hear his brain thinking 'but it's cold out there''. So we left him, sitting in a waiting room for a 'cough' that only barely existed.
I left, knowing full well that were he so inclined, he could complain about my 'attitude' and I'd end up disciplined. Meanwhile I write it here, in the public domain, to show you the sorts of things we really have to put up with.
So the next time you hear about people waiting too long for ambulances, consider for a moment the patient above. That might be why the ambulance arrives later than expected.