Friday, 31 May 2013

How to save a life

Oh picture it a little girl just a beautiful eight year old
Trying to live through this life in a crazy world
Years past and one bad move
She finds herself as a teen and her life in ruins
What could have happened if we stopped and took the time
Showed that girl she had meaning and a purpose to life
Maybe avoid that downward slide
Would you tell her the truth?
Or let her live in a lie? 
It all just seems to change
When you see it as a life to save 
So would you save a life, save a life?
If it was do or die
Would you save a soul, save a soul?
Even if it's not your own?
If you're the hands and the arms that reach
Would you save a life from drowning?
-Manic Drive 

I saw her as soon as I walked out of the front door at work. She was young, tiny and skittish. She should not have been out this late on her own. I was on my way from the closing shift at the pub and I had a friend walking me home. She swung around at the sound of our voices, but hurriedly turned away and kept walking. I fell in step behind her and she stole a look, eyes wide and fearful.
"Are you ok?" I asked gently.
"Yes, thank you." And she turned around. Please don't talk to me.
She crossed to the other side of the road. Please don't follow me.
My friend suspected drugs. I suspected mental health problems. Naive? Maybe.
I watched her - tugging at the arms of her jacket - feeling suffocated by her headphones - searching wildly for a direction to walk in.
"Excuse me, can you please tell me where I am?" Not a normal question. I crossed to her side of the road.
"You're in Harrow. Are you sure you're ok?"
"Yes." No.
"Where are you trying to get to?"
"I don't know."
"Well how about a train station? I can get you to a train station. You can walk with us."
I was offering a crust of bread to a small, frightened animal - and hunger got the better of her.
"Yes, please. Are you sure?"
"Of course. What's happened? Why don't you know where you are?"
"I ran away."
"Where from?"
"A & E."
"Why were you there?"
"... I cut myself."
"Oh... I used to cut myself too."
Her eyes snapped up to mine. Searching. She's lying.
"Thank you for not being judgemental."
"Of course I wouldn't judge you. Yeah, I used to cut my wrists. Just to feel something. What did you cut?"
"My arms."
"About an hour ago."
"Can I see?"
"Please? I just want to make sure you're ok."
She peels her jacket back. Blood is trickling down her fingers. I see scratches. Shallow, angry, red scratches. There is a tattoo on her wrist and it looks like she has been trying to erase it with something sharp (A protractor? Maybe that was just me.) She will feel a tight burning sensation there - I remember that feeling.
She turns her arms over.
Oh, that's where the blood has been coming from. I can see muscle. Clean slices, inches long, expose her flesh and her pain is oozing from the gaping wounds.
I don't react. Not with my face.
"You need to get those wounds stitched, sweetie." I don't know her name. "Please let me take you to the hospital."
"No, I'm fine. I don't want to go back."
Don't push it. Move on.
"Who was there with you? Didn't you have friends or family with you?"
Friends? Family? "No, they wouldn't let anybody from the ward come over with me."
"The ward?"
"I was on the mental health ward. They were taking me across to A & E but I ran. I don't know why."
"Well we need to get you back - just for the wounds. They're too deep. They won't heal on their own." I don't even know which wounds I am talking about.
"Please, no. I can't go back."
Don't push it. Move on.
"Why not?"
"I've been there for 11 weeks. Some of them are nice, but not all of them."
"Did someone there hurt you?"
"No." I don't know if she's telling me the truth. I've believed everything she's told me but I don't know if this is true.
A police car cruises past. She ducks behind me and emerges on my other side.
"They're looking for me."
Everybody. Nobody. "The police."
"Because I ran away." Are you even listening?
I don't think anyone is looking for her. And that's a reflection on them, not her. She ran. They had one less patient to tend to.
Don't push it. Move on.
"Where are you going to go then?"
"I don't know." She looks up at me. Her eyes search mine. I don't know what she's looking for but she finds it there. "Don't judge me, but I want to jump in front of a train."
I don't react. Not with my face. Again.
"Sweetie, no." I still don't know her name.
"Why not?"
"Because I've been there. I tried. I understand. But if my family & friends let me do it, I wouldn't be here now."
I want to tell her if someone saved me one day when I was alone, my dad would be more grateful than words could express. I wanted to ask her to let me save her - on behalf of someone who loves her very much. But there didn't seem to be a someone.
I tell her about my own suicidal period. She tells me she's glad I'm still here. I tell her I am too. And one day she will feel the same about herself.
"Isn't that the train station there?" Why are we walking past it?
She noticed.
"I can't let you go. I have to take you to the hospital. I promise I'll stay with you." I mean it. "We'll just get your wounds tended to and then we'll leave."
"They won't let me back out. I'll be put back on the ward."
"I'll ask if you can be released back into my care." I don't know if I mean it. I just want her to stop bleeding.
"They won't let you."
"You have to get those wounds closed, sweetie. Please?"
She looks at me again - eyes searching. Is she trying to get rid of me? Or help me?
Don't push it. Move on.
"C'mon, sweetie." I smile and start walking towards the hospital.
It works and she comes with me.

"What is your name?" my friend asks. I've forgotten he is even there.
Now it's my turn to swing around. I stare at her. Why would she lie?
"My name is Sam too!" It's the first time I can remember introducing myself as Sam instead of Samantha.
For a moment we giggle and share this moment. It's like we're having a normal conversation on a normal street. We forget that I am a stranger trying to convince a suicidal runaway from a mental hospital to return to care.
A door slams and she jumps. The moment is lost.
"It's not the police. It's ok. Besides, they're looking for one girl - on her own. You're with us. You're not on your own anymore."
She believes me and looks visibly relieved. She's right. The cops won't find me now.
She looks up at me and smiles. It's a wary, untrusting smile. A jolt runs through me. I realise I read her wrong. She's right. I'm not alone.
She starts telling me about her sister. She died three years ago during an epileptic fit.
I don't know what to say. I ask if this set off her troubles. She says they started before that.
It was the wrong question.

Suddenly she stiffens and stops walking.
"I can't!"
I look up. If we turn this last corner we're at the hospital.
"Please, Sam. You need to get the wounds closed." Which wounds?
She runs across the road to the island in the middle. Her run is stiff and looks painful. She's not going to outrun me. But I'm not going to drag her either.
She turns to face me.
"Please, you don't need to worry about me. I'm fine. I'll go to a friend's house."
"Which friend? I'll come with you. Let me get you somewhere safely. You tell me which friend and I'll take you there."
She looks at her phone. I can see her scrolling through contacts.
"I don't know anyone who will be awake now." The saddest voice. The saddest lie. I don't know anyone who will care.
I don't know if she's right. I hope she's not. But either way, she has nowhere to go.
Then a car comes speeding towards us. She slowly starts back-peddling towards the road.
The train.
She's going to jump.
I can't remember the question I asked her, but she stopped and looked at me. The car passes safely behind her.
She turns and limps across the road.
"Please don't follow me."
"I'm not. I'm coming with you. It's that simple."
She turns and looks at me. Why aren't you going away? I'm pushing. Just leave.
She tries to run. I grab her with one arm and pull her to face me.
"Sam. I'm not letting you go. Please let me help you. I want to take you to the hospital. I can't make you, but I can stay with you. Please."
"No, you don't need to get involved."
"I know how it feels to see no other way but you need to believe me. You aren't meant to feel like that. Let them help you. Let me help you."
I see a car pull up on the other side of the road. It's a police car. I reach an arm out to block her exit - just as she sees the car too. As she looks over, police officers are emerging from the car.
She turns to run - right into my arm. I swing her into me and hold her - careful not to hurt her forearm.
"Please! Help her! Help me! Help!"
The way I'm holding her is more like a hug and she is forcing herself deeper into my chest, falling into my embrace. The cops are vaulting the fence now. She realises she's not going anywhere and stops fighting. Now she is hugging me. I hug her back, so tightly. My hand cradles her head. I'm crying.
"I'm sorry, Sam. I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry, Sam."
The officers pull her from my arms but she is holding on to me. I don't let go of her either.
"We've got her. We've found her." The officer is radioing his colleagues. He radios our location. They were looking for her after all. I'm glad.
She screams. They've grabbed her arm - the wounds. The congealed blood falls away and the wounds reopen with venom.
"Stop! Her arms! Be gentle! She's not running, let her go!"
The officers instruct her to roll back her sleeve. I help her as she winces. Another officer dives in with a medical kit. I help Sam to the ground. He winds a thick bandage around the first part of her arm.
"You. Hold this." he barks, placing my hand on hers, holding a bandage in place.
"I'm sorry, Sam. I'm sorry." I'm still crying.
I can't see her. She's hidden by her hair and has slumped. 
I look up. We are surrounded by at least seven emergency vehicles. Cops are diverting traffic. About 20 people are surrounding us.
But I am here for Sam. I promised.
Her phone and headphones are in the way. I pull them off. It's an iPhone. She had her iPod playing and the last song's album cover art is on the lockscreen.
Who is this girl? What 18 year old listens to the Buffy soundtrack? I can't let her go.
"I am putting my number in your phone."
I try. She has a password on it.
"Sam, what is your password?"
She gives it to me. No pause. She just gives it to me.
They start to bundle her up and move towards the back of one of the police vans.
"Can she come with me?" She reaches towards me.
The officers look at me. I promised her I would stay with her.
They ask Tanya, a social worker.
"Are you her friend?"
Sam is right behind me, two cops helping her into the van. She's co-operating.
I look the social worker straight in the eye.
They put me in the middle part of the police van.  I have her bag over my shoulder. They open the door between us so I can hold her hand.
I see the tattoo on her wrist again.
"What does that say?" I can't make it out through all the deep, red scratches.
"Stay Strong."

We drive to the hospital and I walk with her to the emergency ward.
She is put straight onto the nearest bed.
They close the curtain between us. I need to pee. But I don't move. I take a few steps towards a sink. I need to wash her blood off my hands. But I can't leave her. Even though she can't see me. I promised.
A cop comes to talk to me. He asks me if Sam called me. Did I come to pick her up? I shake my head.
"I only met her tonight."
He asks me the same question rephrased a few different ways. He can't comprehend why I was with her - why I had walked so far and for so long with her?
"Because I've been there."
I ask him if I have to leave and he says no. Then I plead with him - when the time comes that I have to leave her, please make sure she knows I'm being told to go by the hospital or the police. Don't let her think I've abandoned her. He smiles and says he will.
A nurse follows him. She asks me to sign her mental health sanction papers. I do. Under relation, I put friend. I don't know why I don't own up to not knowing her, but I don't.
They leave me. My friend is still with me. I hadn't really noticed.

I realise I still have her bag on my shoulder. It's so light. What does someone like her have in her bag? I want to know who she is and I'm ashamed to admit it, but I looked.
Her phone. A red lipstick. A ventalin spray.
I see a bundled up wad of paper. It looks old. It's a folded up booklet.
I flip it to see the cover. A cry is choked in my throat.
Her sister's funeral booklet. It's from early 2010. It's dog eared and dirty. She has carried it with her everywhere. For three years. Since she was 15.
"Ok, Sam. We're going to have to take you back to the ward now."
I bury the booklet back in her back and arrange my face into a smile.

She comes around the curtain and her face is shocked. She's still here. Why hasn't she left me?
"I promised you I would stay."
I reach out and she falls under my arm. The police officer lets me walk with her to the ambulance that will transfer her back to the mental health unit.
I hold my arm around her. I am trying to make her feel safe. But I am also making sure she doesn't run again.
It's not an ambulance. It's the police van again. My heart sinks. They bundle her into the back again.
I go to make my way to the middle section again but the door is slammed before I get there.
A nurse tells me they have my details and will call me to update me on her condition. Ok.
She tells me I can then advise the rest of her family on her situation. Oh no.
I confess. I only just met her tonight!
She looks at me and then looks at the paperwork. I don't know if she's annoyed or confused. Maybe both.
"Well we have your phone number. If she wants to contact you, we can give it to her."
I tell her to remind Sam I put my number in her phone.
I stand there, stunned. I didn't get to say goodbye.
Then a police officer comes around the back of the van.
"She's asking for you."
And he slides the door open.
I dive in and wrap my arms around her.
"I can't go any further with you. I'm sorry. I just wanted to help you. You'll get better. And when you do, you'll realise how wonderful it is to be here, I promise." I kiss her on the forehead. "Now promise me you will get better."
She looks at me and smiles.
I hold her cheek in my hand.
"You're very brave."

The door between us slams shut and the police van takes her away. She's alone again.
And I break down. Sharp wracking sobs rip through me until my chest hurts.
I wail about being 18. And her name being Sam. And Buffy. And losing her sister at 15. None of it makes sense, but I can't stop crying all the same.
We can't get back inside the hospital. Staff only entrance. So we walk down the hospital ramp.
Suddenly my phone rings. The nice police officer offers us a lift home.
I gladly accept.
At my door he shakes my hand. He promises to come into our pub soon. I hope he does.  He tells me I did something very few other people would do. This breaks my heart.
It's 2am. I collapse into bed, sobbing. I look down and realise I have Sam's blood on my shirt.

A few minutes later, I received a text message.

Dad told me that I may not be able to save her. But I gave her one more day. One more chance. And all I can do is hope that it's enough. And one day, we can look back on how we met and where she is now - and we will both be thankful for it.

Miss SAMawdsley xx

UPDATE: She texted me telling me she is feeling better today. I am hoping to get up to the ward to visit her soon.


  1. You are a such great person. Brava.

  2. Sam you're absolutely wonderful!! That took an awful lot of courage and compassion xxx

  3. You are an amazing person, so don't ever forget that. You gave another person a second chance at life, so who knows, in years to come, perhaps another Sam will be out there lost and alone and Sam shall step in to help, remembering how you helped her, and so on. Butterfly wings cause hurricances, etc.

  4. You are such an amazing lass. I've been in that situation too and to know that there are people like you out there only makes a person like me feel cared for. I hope that you both keep in contact and start a great friendship. You are a blessing Sam. :-) x x

  5. If only there were more people in the world like you!!!it would make for a better place, where people see others as possible friends first instead of having to defend themselves from possible harm. Love and Light to you Sam you are a speciaal person.

  6. Awesome. I would feel the same compassion for some strangers myself

    Common kindness to people on the train either drunk or fallen asleep. Sometimes on my shoulder

  7. Amazing!! Alot of people would of just walked by but you gave her a chance. But I wondered who was the friend that you hardly noticed cos they also stayed by your side the whole time

  8. I had tears in my eyes reading this.

  9. Is she ok? Let her know someone in Wyoming is rooting for her!

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