Sunday, 30 January 2011

Official Letter

A look of grave concern greets us as we pull up outside the concrete building. Dozens of blue-barred balconies overlook the square, and grey clouds overlook the balconies.

"It's been at least a couple of days, maybe even three or four."

Reg is one of the faces that makes up the character of this estate. His daily walks, regularly picking up his newspaper and a bottle of milk from the traditional corner shop. His cordial greetings to all and sundry were so much part and parcel of the area and had been going on for so long, that it was as if the buildings had been put up around him. Even the kids in the area showed him respect that was rare to find, clearing a path for him to pass, offering to carry his shopping - an offer his pride always forced him to decline. Sometimes he'd just take off on his own for a weekend, visiting some old army friends, but never without telling at least one of the neighbours.

No one had seen or heard from him for days, and he hadn't told anyone he was leaving. Eventually, someone called the police.

The glass panel in the door of the second floor flat was reinforced with wires, as were the only accessible windows. One of us called through the letter box at the bottom of the door, but heard no reply. A neighbour, suddenly remembering she had a spare set of keys, ran home to find them.

"He gave me these years and years ago. Never used them." One word at a time, catching her breath after running down and up six flights of stairs and across the square and back.

The keys wouldn't work.

"Maybe he's changed the locks? It's got to be twenty years that I've had these and never used them!"

Shining a torch through the keyhole, one of the police officers told us he could see the keys in the other side of the door, a sure sign that Reg must be at home, and a probable explanation as to why the spare set wouldn't work.

We contact local hospitals to make sure that he hadn't been taken there already, a task we knew was futile. Another police unit arrives with an enforcer, a heavy metal battering ram, and two forceful swings later, the door swings open. Splinters from the door frame rain down and shards of glass crunch under the heavy boots of the rescue party.



"Reg, can you hear us?"

There's no answer. Each of us heads in a different direction. Bathroom, kitchen, bedroom, lounge. All impossibly empty. An officer decides to look under the bed.

"That's where my kids would hide!" he adds with a shrug of the shoulders, as if trying to convince himself that his idea isn't quite as ridiculous as everyone seems to think. Ten seconds later, as we're preparing to leave and packing up the bags, and with the police already arranging for the door to be fixed, there's a shout from the direction of the bedroom.

"I've found him! Get in here quick!"

In a space big enough for nothing more than a small animal lies Reg, stuck between the bed and the wall. He's unconscious, his breathing noisy and laboured. His leg is burned from lying against the hot water pipe that runs along the skirting and his head cut from where it hit the wall, leaving a dark red-brown smear at the point of impact. There's no reaction from him to any movement, noise or treatment. 

The key-holder, haunted by the thought she'd waited so long, is trying her best to help, but becomes more of a hindrance. A police officer alert to her anxiety as well as Reg's needs, moves her gently away, allowing us to do our job with a little more ease. We move Reg into our wheelchair, carry him down to the ambulance, and rush him to hospital, where we're met by a whole team of people who take over his care. After watching them for a while and helping where we can, we went back outside, prepared the ambulance for the next crew, and left Reg fighting for his life as we prepared to fight the traffic home. 

With the end of the shift came the knowledge that I'd probably never find out the outcome.

Months later, an official-looking letter appeared at work with my name on it. 

The Coroner wanted an account of the day's events. 

Reg had died two days later. 


Anonymous said...

Makes me sad that there are old boys like him up and down the country, and even sadder that many of them arn't noticed untill it's too late. At least you gave him a fighting chance.

Tom102 said...

I'm sorry, but this is going to sound awful, as many years ago I was in a similar position.

To this day I recall the little details, but the only comfort I have is that we did our very best. Cold comfort I know, but true never the less.

My view then, and now, onto the next job.