Sunday, February 25, 2007

It’s late and I’m tired…

…and my schizophrenic neighbour just jumped off his roof. I shouldn’t have stayed, I shouldn’t have watched but I couldn’t walk away. He was standing on his roof talking to the sky. He wasn’t angry, didn’t seem like he wanted to jump. He was just revelling in the freedom of being up high, away from the confines of his house and talking to himself or his voices or no one. He was up there for about half an hour and I wanted to be up there with him. I wanted to hug him and help him and try and do something to save him.

The road was cordoned off and the street was swarming with police and firemen. It brought everything back from when my friend was ill and the police stormed in and scared the wits out of him and he ended up in the Old Bailey. I ducked under the police cordon and asked them if there was a psychiatrist coming. ‘We’re handling it’ she said, ‘please move back behind the barrier’. It was all too close to the bone and I snapped back ‘well in my experience you don’t usually handle these things very well’. It was out of order and unhelpful, but as I watched this sick, paranoid man ranting from his roof surrounded by blaring police sirens and men in body armour I knew it wasn’t going to end well.

There was an extraordinary collection of people spectating; the orthodox Jews in their Saturday garb and the teenage gay black boys who live across the road. ‘Are you a model?’ one of them asked as I hugged myself in fear for this man’s life. ‘I wander what’s going to happen to his dog’? ‘I knew I should have slept with him when he came to our last party’. ‘It’s not funny’ I snapped, ‘that man is ill and the police aren’t helping, there should be a psychiatrist here’. ‘Don’t worry honey’ he said as he hugged me, ‘he’s a nice guy, he wears lovely clothes, he’s not going to jump’. I tried to laugh, to find humour in blackness, I’ve managed it before but tonight it wasn’t there. He realised I was upset and hugged me harder. He was 19, he told me, just out of prison for cocaine trafficking. Such a gentle young queen, he had got off with a £5,000 fine and 4 months in jail. Meanwhile the neighbour waved his arms to the stars. ‘He’s going to be alright’ my new friend said. But I knew, without a doubt, that he wasn’t.

The American neighbour was beside himself with worry. ‘I saw him on the roof and I called the police, now I wonder if I’ve done the right thing’. The screaming sirens continued to arrive and still he ranted into the blackness. At one point he looked as if he was climbing back in through the roof light. His nephew was down below shouting his name and trying to connect with him. Occasionally he would answer but immediately continued with his torrent of words. No one could get through to him from that far away.

As the queens preened and the Jews mumbled there was suddenly a break in his rantings followed by an almighty thud. Three storeys up and he had fallen from the roof ‘you bastards’ cried his nephew ‘you fucking bastards’. The police restrained him as he tried to go to his uncle. I hugged myself harder and tried not to cry.

Stretchers and lights and men rushed into the alley way, then nothing. ‘This is really bad’ said the American ‘if he was alive they would be bringing him out’. We stood and waited and finally I could take it no more. I had to ask 5 people before a policewoman gave me an answer to my question ‘Is he still alive?’ “Yes’ she answered sympathetically and relief flowed through my veins. Finally they brought him out on a stretcher and into an ambulance, the ambulance didn’t move. ‘Why aren’t they moving?’ I asked, ‘why aren’t they taking him to hospital?’. She took the time to answer me and explained how they had to wire him up and make sure he was stable before they could take him away. Finally they drove off and I clung to myself in shock.

I wandered back to my house and as I opened the door the heavens opened with torrential rain. ‘Why didn’t that start half an hour earlier?’ I cried ‘if it had been raining he might have gone in’.

It was tragic and shocking and painful but inevitable. The police and fire services are not trained to deal with mentally ill people. It is not their fault, but looking down at a street swarming with blue flashing lights and people in uniform is not what a paranoid schizophrenic on a roof needs to see. Too often these situations end tragically, I am not saying I know how to do it better, but there should, at least, have been a trained psychiatrist on the scene.

I am still shaking and shocked and terribly terribly sad. I felt a moment of empathy with my neighbour, he looked happy up there, he didn’t seem like a man who wanted to jump. He has been let down by a system which hardly exists, even if he does survive his life for the next few years will be one of enforced medication and poorly resourced psychiatric wards. I wish I could have done more to help him.

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