The only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, First Inaugural Address, Mar. 4, 1933
32nd president of US (1882 – 1945)
All of a sudden a fracas erupted. Police officers in their black uniforms emerged, seemlingly from nowhere, and wrestled the young man to the ground. One got swiped round the head, the side of his face covered in blood; not his though, it transpired, but that of the subdued man; he’d slit his wrist and much of the blood had ended up down the officer’s face. One of my colleagues set to securing a dressing around the offending wrist, possibly the only part of the man’s body not pinned to the floor by a sea of black stab vests.
This was A&E in the early hours of Boxing Day morning. The place was heaving. All cubicles full; bodies draped over trolleys in the corridor; bored relatives littered about on chairs. The tinsel and decorations made a rather incongruous background while a radio played quietly to itself from one of the cubicles full of untouched Christmas cheer.
I had no idea what had happened. It must have been something extraordinary; numerous police officers, a sergeant, an inspector and even a police photographer. When I returned to the department a couple of hours later things were a little calmer. The young man was now in a side room which had been stripped of all necessities with just a plastic mattress on the floor. Two police officers sat outside, trying to while away the time and looking like they wished they were anywhere but here. The department was still as busy as ever but there was an air of resigned waiting; to see a doctor; for blood tests; for admittance; for a taxi home – waiting – for something.
A primal scream like nothing I’d ever heard before. It came from the cubicle where the young man had been lying, apparently asleep, only moments before. Instead, he was now at the cubicle door; fists clenched; biceps and shoulders bulging with muscular rage; neck veins distended; teeth barred; and screaming – primal, atavistic, full of aggression and terror – but it was his eyes that held my attention. One can only imagine what horrors he saw before him. This was a man in fear; the terror of a primate backed into a corner who knows that he must kill or be killed. His eyes flashed aggression; a last ditched attempt to terrify whatever horror bore down on him; and a terror that he would be torn apart if he didn’t fight back; of knowing that these may be his final moments. And that scream – something to terrorise an opponent and of someone terrified almost to death.
Without pause the two officers launched themselves at him. In the blink of an eye they tackled him back onto the mattress while he continued to battle with whatever nightmare stalked his mind. It was all over in a matter of seconds. As the dust settled an older gentleman slinked out of the room. He looked ashen, dazed, puzzled, confused, bewildered. No one paid him any attention. I couldn’t be sure but I wondered whether this was the young man’s father; helpless to comfort the son he loved.
I finished my business in the department and trotted round to see what ‘the latest’ was. Surprisingly the young chap was now standing up having a calm conversation with the officers, no hint of his earlier aggression. Nearby a doctor, who I took to be a psychiatrist, was arguing his corner as to why the guy shouldn’t be admitted to the psychiatric unit. The A&E charge nurse and the doctors seemed exasperated – where else was he supposed to go?
The young man was gone when I returned later. I never learned what it was all about but I only hope he’s getting the help he needs. I wonder what ‘set him off’ – wouldn’t be anything to do with the new moon would it?
Picture by Jaksa Vuckovic.