They’d been to Ronnie Scots to listen to jazz that was so weird and avant guard that they wanted to giggle so they left early and got the bus home but something caught her eye — from the top of the bus — in an alley — the shape of someone, slumped.
They got off the bus at the next stop — I know her, she would have to do that… And they walked back and found the alley and the man. He was lying with his shoulders against a bin, in a puddle, the weather was dry — she thought he had wet himself.
The conversation was stereotyped, ‘Are you okay?’
‘Fuck off!’ he just wanted to be left alone, he was probably drunk — they left.
As the young couple walked home the doubts began to hatch. Was he just drunk? Was he ill, a diabetic having a hypo, perhaps? Had he been mugged, stabbed? Was it blood on the ground, hidden in the shadow and the distorting spectra of the street light?
They phoned the police, who must have been grateful.
Then she phoned a friend who was me and set me thinking about all the puddles of blood and abusive men (and women) that I have tried to help — the insulin enhanced right-hooks I have dodged, ducking and diving to avoid the punches and projectile vomits that pursued me in my previous life.
A friend of ours found a man, collapsed and cold, on the moor — he was barely conscious and could well have said, ‘Fuck-off!’ but the friend for some reason that he will never understand (he had no particular medical knowledge) asked the man if he was diabetic. ‘Yes,’ he said and passed out.
That knowledge and hot sweet tea saved his life.
People with diabetes get ill and confused with high blood sugars, they don’t smell of alcohol but do smell of acetone (like alcoholics the morning after) which can be misleading. Untreated diabetes does not give you hypos, but the treatments can and the hypoglycaemia can make you seem drunk, can come on very suddenly and make you violent, confused and incontinent. It can rapidly lead to brain damage and death. If in doubt you can always give them sugar — if they are suffering from a high sugar you won’t make it much worse but if they have a low sugar you may well save their life.
As for the blood — blood is one thing in a hospital ward, in a labour room or the back of an ambulance but it is quite another as you follow the drops up a half lit staircase or out of a back door into the dusk. Then it explodes onto your retina, impacting on your senses like nothing else. A tiny drop of fresh blood will grab your attention and lead you to the next and the next.
We have evolved to follow injured prey, to find a wounded comrade, to see red and know the danger. This phenomenon always amazes me — makes me remember that I am an animal — reminds me to wear something red to a concert if I want my friend, on the stage, to spot me — explains why I cannot read the cooking instructions, written in white on the scarlet pizza box — the red, you see, just fills up my senses.
If the man in the alley were lying in a pool of blood, you would have known, and believe me, you would have smelled the blood!