I watched a mouse dying today. Yes... a mouse. Scruffs had caught it and was playing with it, but I took it from him and put it into a bucket so that I could chuck it into the field behind my house. I've given many a mouse a second chance by doing this. This one however, well, he was feisty and he managed to clamber up and out of the bucket before I had a chance to stop him. He obviously didn't trust my intentions.
He plopped onto the grass and ran for his life, but Scruffs was on him again and he was pawed to a stand-still. I told my cat to let him go and he did (Scruffs is generally obedient, believe it or not - he sits on command), but the mouse made a fatal mistake - he dashed away from the safety of me and my bucket. He ran straight into Scruff's path again, and this time Scruffy boy was having him. He grabbed him in his mouth and made to escape into the house with it.
I managed to get him to drop the little thing though and I picked it up and saw straight away that it was limp and weak. Scruffs hadn't pierced his body with his teeth; he rarely does that, but I guess the crush of his mouth had been enough to cause internal damage.
But I thought the little thing may also be playing dead, because they do that. I put him on the ground and watched him. His breathing was shallow and quick, and when I dropped him to the ground, his little paws jerked out, as if he was scared of the fall... or wanted to be kept out of harm's way. Then he just lay there, eyes open, and began to gasp in long, crying breaths. I recognised this. I've seen humans do it. It's called agonal breathing and it's the last thing that any breathing creature will do before they die.
I watched as he opened his little mouth and silently screamed, time and time again, over and over... and then he just stopped. His eyes never closed and he never looked in pain but he clearly was.
Why am I telling you this? I'm telling you this because as I watched him die, I felt more emotion for him than I have done recently for people.
I've had a bad year, and you all know that, but I don't deserve anything for it because there are plenty of people having bad years... and some having much, much worse. But my year has helped me focus on what's really important and it's helped me see the futility of trying to educate the public about how not to abuse their emergency ambulance service. It's hardened me against those who deliberately destroy their lives when there has never been the threat of a cat to kill them, against a backdrop of children and babies who have terminal illnesses and whose parents are living only in the shadow of inevitability for a loss that will be so great that they cannot fathom life for themselves any longer.
I'm not giving up and I'm not clinically depressed... but I am changing my mind about things.
I went out tonight. I went to a gig ('Battle of the bands') that was specially organised by my colleagues for my colleagues and in aid of charity. I spent a few hours drinking with them, laughing with them and listening to music produced and performed by them. It was great fun and a sobering reminder to me that I am not part of a company, or an organisation. I am part of a family. Every one of the people I saw tonight (the club was almost exclusively full of London Ambulance staff) do the same job as me. The fact that I write this blog and have done other things is completely irrelevant. These people also have to deal with the reality of the job, day in, day out. They know that there is no answer and never will be. Certain members of the public will always abuse their emergency services; they care not a jot that we care.
I listened-in to a call recently in which a man had dialled 999 for help because he was in pain. From the very start he was aggressive, abusive and very threatening towards the call-taker. The call-taker remained calm and professional against a tirade of swearing, animosity and direct threats. The man even threatened to punch the first medical person he saw. This was simply because he had toothache and we hadn't sent him an ambulance as a matter of priority.
Someone's 83 year-old grandmother was lying on the floor, unable to get up. She'd been there for hours waiting for us because we were tied up with other 'emergency' calls, and this guy didn't care to know, even when that was being explained to him by the polite call-taker.
I love my job. I believe my colleagues love their jobs - they must do, because they could apply to drive a train and earn a hell of a lot more and take a hell of a lot less abuse.
Christmas is coming. It's the season you all know makes my blood boil, because it's when the worst of people come out of the rotting woodwork of society. Lawyers, doctors, City bankers and a host of other 'respectable' professions will get drunker than normal, and will pile abuse, vomit and spit onto us. Please, read the mouse story again. Try to understand what happens to people when they live the prediction of such things.
I recently noticed that someone gave me a less than flattering review for 'Life & Death on The Streets', (a professional moaner, judging by the number of other books he's also whined about) and, to be honest, I don't care because that's the name of the game. But he described me as 'just another gobby ambulance person', or something very similar. He went on to describe how I did the usual moaning about the state of things in my profession. I realised that this critic was probably not in the ambulance service, or anything at all to do with the NHS. His or her opinion is that we should all just shut up and 'do our jobs'... as many others out there think. But this isn't just a job, it's a vocation; you either love it or you don't, and for all of us... me and my colleagues, after years of abuse and violence and assaults; years of pandering to those who think they need us but do not, and a mini-lifetime of the same old faces doing the same old things to get to hospital - I think we have earned the right to be gobby.
Me, my emotions, my colleagues and one dying mouse have kicked me back into reality.