Saturday, 23 April 2011

Last Passage

They come out in their droves: the young and the old, in dressing gowns and slippers. They have their mobile phones and their cameras, all the better to record this moment.  Held back by the police tapes, they crane their necks, anxious to see all they can.

I kneel down gingerly by the bonnet of the lorry, and peer beneath. He is lying there, his head resting by the wheel that has run him over.  He is still, no signs of life.  I slide under the lorry, taking heed of the blocks that have been placed there by the fire team, raising it the few centimetres I need to be able to reach him.   My hand reaches out, and I feel his neck.  No pulse beats beneath his skin.  I place my stethoscope in my ears, and press the bell against his chest.  No heartbeat, no respiratory sounds.  I slide out, and shake my head at the paramedics, police and fire crew waiting for my verdict.

He needs to be moved, from under the lorry and into the waiting ambulance, for his last journey.  The crowds remind me of spectators in a Roman Colosseum, baying for blood.  I don't want to be the one to provide them their sport.  I don't want him to be the object of their scrutiny.  I direct the fire crews to grab some tarpaulins and hold them up as screens against prying eyes, as we gently, reverently draw him out from underneath the lorry, place him on the ambulance trolley, and wheel him into the back of the waiting ambulance.  Behind closed doors, we complete our paperwork, before arranging for him to be transferred away from here.

As I leave the ambulance, as I grab my bag from the ground and walk slowly back to my car beyond the police line, I am afforded no such privacy.  The crowds, denied what they have come for, call to me, begging for whatever scraps of information they can get.  I shut myself in the relative safety of my car, and drive home.


  1. I don't think it's even a new thing (except for the cameras and mobiles). Huge crowds used to turn out for executions, not what I'd call a spectator sport. I often think that humans aren't an awfully nice species (although there are, of course, exceptions).

  2. Fee, I agree with you. And I have written about this before. It just always upsets me so much. Yet I am sure I would be exactly the same!!!

  3. The German word for the onlookers or spectators in this sense is "Schaulustige", "those who want to see a spectacle or exhibition" and lustig can also mean funny or amusing. It always seemed rather strange to me but it does fit them so well. What don't they get about the speed with which you were finished - there was no time-consuming life saving to be done. When there is an obviously bad accident on the other side of the motorway I consciously try to look ahead at where I am going - if only to avoid the person in front who is endangering everyone else by slowing down to rubberneck.