One ordinary spring afternoon I was on with my regular mate, Tony. The next job arrived with the beeping of the data terminal on the ambulance dashboard.
We were passed details of a girl threatening to jump from a pedestrian bridge crossing the motorway. The girl had been spotted climbing over the railing on the bridge by an off duty ambulance man, Tom, as he was driving along the motorway. He left the motorway and rang the details in. He then drove to the car park near to the bridge to see if he could talk to the girl.
We arrived shortly after Tom; luckily we were available and fairly local when Tom rang control. We were advised to use a ‘silent approach’ which as the name hints means turn off blue lights and sirens when near the incident so as not to startle a volatile person. The police had arrived shortly before us, also using the silent approach.
The girl was on the bridge, on the wrong side of the railings, above the third lane of the carriageway. Tom was half way to her and the police were on the car park. As the police arrived the girl had become angry and threatened to jump if they didn’t go away so they withdrew out of her sight. I stepped on the bridge and asked if I could come and talk to her. At first she said she would jump if Tom, I or Tony came any closer. I said that it was hard to hear what she was saying from a distance and I couldn’t keep shouting, she reluctantly agreed to allow just Tom and I to come nearer – she repeated her threat to jump if any police officers or anyone else stepped onto the bridge. The police officers stayed hidden in the car park, meanwhile requesting a trained negotiator to join us to help. Tony stayed at the end of the bridge so he could relay information to our control centre as the incident evolved and equally importantly help Tom and I should we need help suddenly.
When I got near enough to talk I introduced myself and she said her name was Sonia (changed). She was in her early 20s and from her early teens had suffered with depression. She admitted that occasionally she harmed herself by cutting and I could see the faint lines of healed scar tissue confirming this on her left forearm. The last few days had been particularly bad she said and today had got to the point where she felt she just could no longer cope. I asked how she came to be here on this bridge and she said that she had gone to her GP surgery by the car park at the end of the bridge for help but had been turned away without seeing her doctor or any other of the doctors in her centre as there were no appointments that day or indeed that week. This is a growing problem in the UK: GPs are so overstretched that it is really hard to get an appointment to see them, one of the reasons ambulances and hospital EDs are stretched is that people try to get an appointment and when this is not possible have to resort to going to hospital or dialling 999.
All the while Sonia was talking, she was crying and kept saying: “I’m just not worth it, go and help somebody who deserves help, I’m going to jump now.”
She was standing on the ledge holding the railings and kept leaning back. She was wearing a pair of flip flops so she was at risk of slipping and falling even if she didn’t intend to jump. By now there was no traffic on the motorway; the police had stopped traffic entering this stretch in both directions to remove the risk to traffic passing beneath us. I asked if I could check her pulse, any excuse to make contact so I could grab hold but she was smarter than that and refused, saying she was going now. A quick glance at Tom and a quick nod, we both knew we were going to have to grab her, she was looking down between her feet and seemed to be steeling herself for the drop – we each grabbed an arm. Her feet slipped from the ledge and Tom and I were pulled tight against the barrier as we held her up. She was screaming, wriggling and swearing at us to let her go. Things were happening quickly but I seemed to have lots of time to notice things. I could feel the pressure of the barrier in my armpit and had time to hope that it would hold the combined weight of the three of us. A pen in my sleeve pocket slipped out and I had time to notice it tumbling end over end until it hit the empty road beneath us. We couldn’t lift Sonia; we just had to wait for the police to join us. Suddenly I felt arms around my waist and more sets of arms reaching over to grab Sonia. Somehow between the police officers and ourselves we manhandled her to safety.
Later at the hospital I handed her over to the triage nurse for a review by the mental health team. I never got chance to check later that shift but have often wondered how she got on and how she is now.
We never did get the services of the trained negotiator that day but thankfully the only casualty was the pen which had fallen to its destruction from my sleeve pocket.