COLUMN: August 31, 2017

recovery position
The recovery position. Picture posed by model. Obviously

AIDAN has been with me all week, ever since I met him, every time I close my eyes, every time I walk down the city centre streets.

Aidan is not his real name. There was so little dignity in the circumstances of our meeting that I have to give him at least some of the stuff by leaving him his anonymity. This is ironic. People like Aidan have anonymity in spades.

I had just arrived in town on my way to work. The sun had decided to make a brief appearance, and people were more cheerful, or, at least, less not cheerful. I crossed over a busy road, and then checked my phone as I walked, as it is 2017 and that is what we do.

And that is when I stumbled upon Aidan.

“Stumbled upon” is a poor choice of words. It would have been entirely accurate had I been walking 12 inches to my left. Aidan was lying on the pavement, convulsing, in a pool of his own vomit and blood.

The last time I had first aid training was when I was nine years old. I was not going to be much use there. There was a part of me – quite an insistent part of me – that was saying that I should just move on. Somebody had already dialled 999, and a paramedic was on his way. All I would be doing is getting in other people’s way.

Except… there weren’t any other people. There was a man on the phone, speaking to paramedic control, and describing the condition of Aidan. There was Aidan’s friend, standing next to him, inappropriately chuckling away. And there were people walking past, as I would have done normally.

But he was lying on his front, which vague memories of Casualty and of an old acquaintance who had epilepsy told me was bad. “What’s his name?” I asked his friend, which is how I learned his name was Aidan. I crouched by his head, and turned him on his side into the recovery position.

It was the first time I had seen him properly. His hands were filthy. He had a sleeping bag bunched up underneath him.

“What happened?” I asked the friend, although I didn’t need to. I have read enough about it. “He’s on Spice,” his friend said cheerfully, clearly on it himself.

You can look it up yourself. Google “Spice seizures”. Page after page of scientific studies into this synthetic form of cannabis, many times more powerful than pot. It’s so powerful it can cause psychosis, and, yes, seizures.

A second seizure started. I kept him in place on his side. It seemed the right thing to do. Why had I not kept up with first aid? I had the badge, for goodness’ sake, although Cubs first aid was fairly sketchy on drug-induced seizures. “It’s all right, Aidan,” I said, “help’s on its way. You’re going to be OK.”

People kept stopping and asking if they needed to call an ambulance. A cyclist rode over to us. “His name’s Aidan,” he said. “It’s the Spice. It’s happened before.” The fact it had happened before was both horrifying and reassuring.

“It won’t be long, son,” I said to the young man shuddering in front of me, his eyes rolled back into his head. I had no idea how old he was. He could have been anywhere between 20 and 35. I asked the man on the phone how long the ambulance would be. “They just keep saying it’s on its way,” he said.

And as I was trying to settle Aidan, I was aware of something happening over my head. Even then, the cyclist was conducting a Spice deal with Aidan’s friend.

A woman joined us, a mother, with the wipes that all mothers have. She cleaned the area around Aidan’s mouth, and stayed with us until the paramedic arrived. His siren spooked the dealer and Aidan’s friend, and they scarpered.

“Will he be OK?” I asked the paramedic, as he donned his latex gloves. “Yeah,” he sighed. “I’ve seen a dozen of these this month. It’s the Spice.”

Spice is the only thing that makes life bearable on the streets. I can’t blame Aidan or his friend for taking it. I can blame the suppliers, though.

And I can blame the government for allowing rough sleeping and homelessness to become rife. Because somewhere along the line we let Aidan, and people like him, down.

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