It was a Saturday in June and I was in prompt need of treatment like all the other people in the A&E department that night. There were all kinds of ailments and injuries, and not all of them were physical, or treated with respect to their nature.
Anybody familiar with the horror of A&E admission knows that if you find yourself admitted straight to a cubicle and not head-to-toe with someone struck with the latest killer flu, you are the golden apple of an unlucky bunch. Feeling relieved to be a golden apple, I was wheeled to my cubicle where I got out and lay on a trolley without a pillow for what lasted to be 5 days before I was transferred to an actual bed on a ward. The first night was uncomfortable and the events of that night heavily impacted on the duration of my admission.
With aching chest pain and an urge to sit up on a broken trolley, I called for the nurse to assist me and disconnect me from my 10’ o clock IV that had been delayed and given at twelve. It was beeping impatiently and I had already silenced the alarm more than my patience could tolerate in the pain I was in despite having had my fair share of opiate relief. I rang the bell which was far from my reach and the nurse finally came. In those 30 seconds that I waited for her to come, I heard a man crying for help. He asked that somebody give him ‘just five minutes’ to talk as he felt ‘very suicidal’ and ‘feared what he might do’. And while there were the usual noises of a busy hospital environment, drip alarms and phones ringing, the sound of the sobbing man drowned them all out. His words chilled me. When the nurse did come to me, I could see the man sitting on the line of cold, hard chairs opposite the other side of my curtain. He wore a dirty brown jacket and spoke with a British accent. The nurse closed the curtain behind her when she left and I was sitting on the edge of my trolley as it hurt too much to lay my head back onto the flat surface.
All I could hear amidst all the madness of everything else was the man and what he kept repeating. ‘Please, please. I need to talk’, ‘Just 5 minutes is all I ask, I need to talk to someone’, ‘Please’. I thought about drawing the curtain back and being the listening ear that he needed, but I was drowsy in a lot of pain and didn’t know how to handle a person in the state of agony that he was. A different nurse passed by and shouted furiously “WHAT?! WHAT DO YOU WANT?! There is no-one here to listen to you now. You will have to wait ‘til Monday”. I felt even more physically sick than the medication had caused me to feel, and an overwhelming surge of shame and anger for the lack of compassion and genuine concern in the woman’s tone and remarks. I was shocked and disgusted firstly at the way any person was spoken to like that but a person at high-risk of taking their life was treated in this manner by people he probably thought he was in safe hands with, because, why wouldn’t he think that? I had thought that, after all. It had just quietened down in A&E and most people were in tranquil sleep, even the ones that had been roaring screams of pain and torture less time ago than the hour that had lapsed between them. I realised then that I was the only person that had heard what I heard.
There should have been somebody on call to deal with a sensitive and alerting situation of that kind. I drifted off to sleep and woke that morning to the familiar sound of the drip alarm going off again. I knew that it had to be shortly after 6am and the nurse came to free me. I pulled the curtain back of the cubicle I had uncomfortably spent the night in and made my way to the bathroom around the corner. Memories entered my head of the man as I walked by the bench of chairs that he sat on but I noticed he was not there and I couldn’t see or hear him anywhere in my radar. Given the busyness of A&E on any normal day, I knew it was unlikely he had got a bed somewhere, seeing as I hadn’t, and after the way he had been spoken to I doubted any shred of kindness was the reason he had left. There was a strange vibe that I couldn’t place my finger on but intuition told me that something wasn’t right and my heart sank when I saw a body covered up being carried out across a stretcher before breakfast time that morning.
The weeks that followed were accompanied with sadness and my usual recovery time took longer and involved some disappointing setbacks.
I was weighed down by a heavy feeling in my heart and couldn’t talk about it with anyone.
I was trying to process too much at once instead of dealing with what was right in front of me in the present. The man wasn’t mentioned on the news, or if it was I missed it and started to feel even more sad. Here was a man that didn’t feel his life was worth it, and then here was the sports commentator to talk about yesterday’s hurling game. It was so unfair. I thought about his family, if he had any, and if they had known of his condition. In my head, I just kept circulating what happened and what I wished I had done. If I had drawn back my curtain and given him five minutes, would things be different now? If I had even said ‘I’m here’ just loud enough that he could tell that I was, could I have reversed somebody’s suicide? Of course, I could, but would I have? I don’t know. And that’s the killer (excuse my pun). A patient should not have to carry the guilt that I still do for not intervening and it is something I regret for not taking matters into my own hands.
If I learned anything from that experience, it’s that even in the strongest fighters the mind is fragile. It is composed of millions of tiny neurons that produce neurotransmitters for the chemical functions inside our brains. There are different types of neurotransmitter chemicals and they are what depict our mood and response to psychological stimuli. For some people, the levels of neurotransmitter ‘dopamine’ and/or ‘serotonin’ can be lower and make the person vulnerable to the world and it’s normal everyday stresses. Depression is more likely to set in and devastate that person’s life and the lives around them. Anything can kick it off.
The Irish government ought to hang their heads in shame for what they continuously allow to happen in this country and failing to provide for a desperate need of services and resources for people struggling with emotional stability. Young people and older people are crying out for anybody to listen and take the load off their chests. Our cries cannot keep falling on deaf ears. It cannot be only left to organisations like Pieta House to take on a crisis like this, and a crisis is exactly what it is. Nobody wants to talk about death especially when it is eventual under dire circumstances. Somebody needs to step up to their position and adapt a role that will take measures to prevent ongoing suffering.
Life is tough. One day it can be sunny and the next could see rain pouring down in buckets. What comes to mind is a saying we’re all used to ‘When it rains it pours’, and that night it was raining. He needed help, assurance, a friendly voice. And maybe that would’ve been enough, and maybe it wouldn’t. It wasn’t my job or responsibility to comfort anybody else that night, but my moral obligation as a human being will always be haunted by that man’s whimper, and without being too harsh on myself, maybe it should. Maybe that’s humanity about as raw as it gets.