Sunday, 8 March 2009

God's clown

Meet Franko - more on him later...

Day shift: Three calls; all by ambulance.

Stats: 2 Chest pain; 1 Allergic reaction.


My ‘blonde’ moments can make me cringe when I think back on them and my first call of the morning provided one that, although understandable, was tinged with preconception.

I had been called to a 60 year-old male with chest pain and I was told the police were on scene. This isn’t unusual as our cop colleagues often deal with patients in public places until we arrive.

I pulled up in Victoria Street, across from New Scotland Yard and a police officer gestured towards his parked car. The lights were flashing, so they must have stopped there for a reason.

The officer told me that they had carried out a routine anti-terrorism stop on a van driver and he had immediately complained of chest pain out of the blue. He was now sitting in the back of their vehicle being interviewed by another armed cop. The officer’s note pad was open as he spoke to me, so I wrote down the name that I saw on it – Nasir Ali, along with an age. Then I walked over to the car and leaned into the back, where the man was sitting in the shadows.

‘Nasir Ali?’ I asked, looking directly at the man in the back seat. He gave me a blank look and then looked at the officer in the front

‘You are Nasir Ali?’ I repeated for confirmation. I thought he might not speak English but I knew he’d at least know his name and could nod for me.

There was a pause for a few seconds and then he turned to look at me with a big grin on his face.

‘No…Bernard actually’, he said.

The man was as white English as you could possibly get and even if he’d changed his religious beliefs I don’t think he’d want to change his name from Bernard to Nasir Ali – that would cause no end of confusion.

The cops were grinning too. I had obviously recorded a name that they had noted earlier and this man, of course, was not the same one. It was a simple first-thing-in-the-morning error, I can assure you, so I apologise to Bernard and to Mr Nasir Ali (a name I have changed anyway).

I figured if he could smile and joke about my stupidity, he couldn’t be that unwell and when the crew took him into the ambulance, the cops and I discussed whether he was actually having chest pains and palpitations at all. I offered the suggestion that, given the possibility that Bernard was a good citizen who’d never been stopped by the police before in his life, the sight of two large coppers with equally large guns may just have triggered an anxiety event – it’s also feasible that their presence could promote the onset of a heart attack in particularly vulnerable people. This, they conceded, was probably true. Then one of them realised he wasn’t sure where he’d left his MP5 submachine gun…I think he was joking…


The next call, some hours later, was for a 78 year-old man with chest pain. His flat was on the top floor, of course, and there was no lift…of course. I climbed the steps and then down a narrow walkway which was littered with plant pots, causing obstruction along the entire length of the balcony section. I knew the crew was going to have trouble moving this man if he was in real trouble or very large (or both).

Inside a cluttered flat I found him standing over his bed, holding a phone to his ear. ‘I’m having heart trouble so I probably won’t see you again. Bye’, he said to what I can only assume was a voicemail service. I thought this was a bit dramatic.

He told me that his pain was gone now but that he’d suffered bouts of it over the past few weeks, especially when he exerted himself…like walking a few feet. He already had GTN for angina but he said it was ineffective, so I reasoned that his condition was worthy of investigation. He was a bit breathless too.

When the crew arrived and I handed over, he spent ages pottering about around his flat trying to shut things off, gather things up and generally worry about forgetting stuff before he left. If I was going to hospital and thought I wasn’t coming back again, I don’t think I would worry too much about leaving the central heating on. He shouldn’t have been on his feet but he was quite insistent and we were reduced to waiting staff as he continued his activities. No wonder he got chest pain so often.


The last call was a NPC for a 1 year-old child with an allergic reaction. It was miles away and the crew arrived with me. I popped my head round the door and the child looked fine – the mother was being overly concerned about a rash I think.


For the rest of my shift I stood by at Trafalgar Square where I witnessed a performer strip off to his underwear in order to change costumes for his act. This was all very well but he did in it full public view while a crowd of dozens stood watching him. There were young children in the crowd, so inevitably someone complained and he was collared by the police.

A man walked his ferret across the square as an elderly woman approached with a lit pipe in her mouth. This combination of strange sights reminded me that I was in Central London where life isn’t always ordinary. I’ve never seen a woman smoke a pipe in my life. She must be the one who keeps those little specialist-pipe-shops in business.

I spent some time giving out plasters to female tourists who had decided that hours of walking in the wrong shoes - resulting in torn heel skin, was probably a bad idea.

And a mother asked me about the health of one of her daughter’s ankles – she’d twisted it a few days earlier and it was still playing up. Both her girls were about 10 years-old and, remarkably, they wanted to go and see the Picasso exhibition, which is on at the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery (I’m assuming its that wing because the posters are up in that area). I chatted to them about the wonderful Hans Holbeins that were hanging in the main Gallery and it was refreshing to talk to young people about things that enlighten the soul…like great art.

Then I met Franko. He approached the car and tried to sell me Jesus and religion but I convinced him that I had my own ideas about the subject. Supreme being, yes – all-loving, all-seeing, all-interfering deity…not so sure. I remember sending away two Jehovah’s Witnesses from my door in a depressed state years ago but, hopefully, I didn’t cast a shadow on this man’s mission. What he’s doing is admirable but I’m not in the market. He gave me permission to photograph and write about him, so I’m sure this won’t offend him – he knows how straight-talking I can be, but if I have I hope he doesn’t get upset enough to seek me out…there's nothing scarier than an angry clown – especially one with God on his side.

Be safe.

6 comments:

Fiz said...

I am an Anglican and last time the J.W's came, I told them they were in mortal error and offered to debate theology with them - you've never seen two people disappear so fast in all your life!

Pavlov's Cat said...

Maybe he was not joking.
I recall back in the 80's when I was working in town, during the time of the "ring of steel" A bobby did leave her MP5 on the pavement at the checkpoint on Bishopsgate. A thoughtful MOP later handed it in to the Bishopsgate Police Station, where apparently it had not yet been missed.

TonyF said...

I have a thing about clowns...I don't like them. They don't frighten me, just make me feel uncomfortable.

JWs. Last ones that bothered me I told them I was an atheist, and they were soooo wrong. They couldn't leave fast enough. Why do they go around in pairs?

Fiz said...

They hunt in pairs!

Anonymous said...

because its safer!

Anonymous said...

I think this blog is great! I'm from the UK and now live in canada (Calgary, Alberta), My wife trained as an SRN in the UK, but is called an RN over here. I used to work as a security guard around Trafalgar Square in the 1980's (I miss that decade!) and saw lots of interesting things on a daily basis.

Life is different here in the great White North, and we have loads of British nurses and doctrors working here in Calgary. Even the Calgary City Police is now 10% former UK police officers!