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  • There was the 68 year old grandmother, laying in the road waiting for a car to run her over. The cars swerved around her; no one stopped. She had moved in with her son and daughter-in-law after the death of her husband, but her daughter-in-law didn't like her. They kicked her out so they could get rid of her and rent the room out at the same time. She was grieving, could barely speak English, had no-one to turn to and nowhere to go. Life was just too difficult to carry on, so she felt the best thing to do would be to end her life.

    There was the 40 year old woman who was being 'sectioned' in her flat (to 'section' someone means that a person with mental health problems, at risk of harming themselves or others, is assessed then taken to a place of safety under a Section of the Mental Health Act). The woman was frightened. She didn't understand what was happening and she didn't want to leave her home. When she became agitated, the police took this as licence to wrestle her down five flights of communal stairs while she kicked and screamed her defiance. As she struggled, her nightdress rode up to her waist, revealing her naked body to the many bystanders and gawpers. The police didn't care enough about her dignity to cover her up.

    There was the 27 year old prostitute. She and her married, middle-class client had been having sex in her flat when one of the lit candles set fire to the curtains. Fire brigade staff first on scene had apparently decided the pair weren't worthy of their compassion. I found them huddled together in the rain outside the smouldering building, shivering and naked except for foil blankets. The prostitute was crying because she'd lost everything; her home (which she couldn't afford to insure), her place of work, all her money (which had been hidden in the mattress) and and all her worldy goods. Her client was crying because he'd lost his clothes, keys and wallet, and was in danger of losing his marriage.

    Three short stories about three people who didn't have a house in suburbia, 2.4 children and a dog. I could tell tales of many, many others I met on the job who similarly didn't 'fit the mould' and suffered because of this. And I was just one paramedic, working on one ambulance, for one ambulance service, in one city, in one small corner of this big planet.

    The vast majority of the people we attended were different in some way to what is perceived to be the 'norm' in our society. But there is no 'norm'. The outsiders are the same as us on the inside. We are all different in so many ways, and we are all the same in so many ways too. That was by far the most valuable lesson I learned on the road.
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