How the incomprehensible becomes commonplace

I’m not sure why, but nowadays I don’t get many hits from Australian readers on The Hump. Only 2 visitors from NSW in the last month, and Australia at 36 hits comes well below Bangladesh, Vietnam, Romania and the Philippines. And that’s a shame because I’ve visited Australia and have many friends there. And they speak English, kind of. But nowadays it has become an alien land in serious ways.

Here’s a harrowing video about the arrest of a man for the heinous crime of not wearing an ineffective mask in the open air in New South Wales.

It’s all very George Floyd, except that this man is an innocent pedestrian who has not just passed fake banknotes and taken large amounts of narcotics, and multiple family witnesses testify that he has a heart condition as they plead with the police to remove the handcuffs, especially after the guy collapses and, apparently, goes unconscious, when they start pleading for someone to call an ambulance too.

Several police officers (presumably the platoon that were out patrolling for marauding mask non-wearers) “manage the hostile crowd” (ie push those women and outraged shoppers remonstrating peacefully with them), whilst one woman officer does nothing effective except persistently not take the handcuffs off as she kneels behind the victim.

After a full ten minutes or so, the citizen-journalist filming (I think the man’s father-in-law) pans round to show that several riot-vehicles have now arrived and are discharging their armed policemen to quell the masses, and drily remarks, “The riot squad has been called – but still no ambulance.”

The clip ends with how the TV news covered it – a good advertisement for switching off the TV news in Australia as well as in our own country in order to be better informed.

But the particular point I want to make for this column is that it took me a while to realise the incident takes place immediately outside a medical centre, and according to its website a stonking big one. And that led me to imagine what would have happened had it occurred on the doorstep of my old practice in Essex, when I was working there.

What does seem to have happened, as far as I can see from the footage, is that despite the fracas, the crowd, the open doors of the medical centre, and the loud claims of a medical emergency, not much did happen for a good while.

Eventually, somebody emerges from the centre looking distinctly unconfident, but who has taken the time to gown, glove, cap and mask up as if they were scrubbing for theatre, Perhaps, I suppose, they were already thus attired and were called out of an operation, but somehow I doubt it: it smacks more of the new Hippocratic priority of “First follow H&S protocols, and then think about doing no harm.” It’s hard to see on the video whether, as this person kneels by the cuffed and now unconscious patient, he/she is setting up an IV or, more probably, attaching a defibrillator. Either way, I didn’t see much in the way of effective scene-management, history-taking, or examination.

At one stage the patient convulses, and I wonder if the medic has given a shock. If so, it’s not especially wise to give DC shocks to people with their wrists bound behind them with metal handcuffs. To be honest, I think the medical centre comes out of this looking as bad as the NSW Stazi, or worse.

I am pretty confident what would have happened 15 years ago at my Essex practice. The receptionists would have been alerted by patients to the disturbance outside, if they hadn’t already seen men in uniforms stamping about, and would have immediately (or through the practice manager, who was always first to react anyway) told the most senior person on-site, that is me as senior partner.

I would have gone out wearing my “Whats all this here, then” expression, seen that whether or not I recognised the handcuffed guy as a patient, there was a medical issue, and taken charge. It’s what doctoring is about. I ask the most senior-looking officer what the deal is as I start to examine the patient – and even without saying “I’m a doctor” I know that fact would be recognised, not least because I’d just emerged from the medical centre with a stethoscope.

Once I hear that the guy has been arrested just for wearing a mask, I order the police to remove the cuffs NOW so I can do a proper medical assessment (or an immediate defib if it’s clear that the situation is that bad), and I threaten their careers if they let him die because they won’t. That is what proper medics do even if, as was so in my case, they have not been police surgeons or the Essex Force Medical Officer who passed their Chief Constable as fit on their appointment.

What I don’t do is try to work around the judicial priorities of the police, though had the guy been arrested for drug-induce violent delirium I would maybe take the need for adequate restraint into account. But that would not extend to putting a 1Kv shock through a man still in handcuffs. And neither does it apply to a guy who happened not to be wearing a face-mask on the street.

Now, I’d be the first to accept that my resuscitation training would probably have been overdue, my skills rusty and my medical performance, given the kerfuffle, sub-standard. That’s how it goes in real emergencies. But my practice would, rightly, have seen it as my job – and the firm’s job – to act decisively in a situation in which any real leadership was clearly lacking from the police. That would have got the officers off the hook as well as, possibly, doing the patient some good… though something strange seems to have happened to the police mindset across the world since COVID, not just in Australia. Nowadays, maybe they’d just cuff me too.

Note that all this also applies had I known that the patient was the worst hysterical malingerer on my list and that almost certainly his collapse was manipulative. That is irrelevant to the job of bringing a difficult situation into some kind of order. As it was, I don’t think the Bass Hill Plaza Medical Centre has covered itself with glory in their handling of the medical aspects.

If they had dealt with it more positively, it would be interesting to know if the person in the theatre gear, either intervening dramatically but unsuccessfully, or perhaps raising up a calmer and reassured patient like Lazarus, to the relief of all concerned, would have become the hero of the hour for the TV news. It’s likely that would have been the case in my fantasy-scenario about handling it in Essex: “GP hero saves Muslim who collapsed after arrest.”

But then, I would have been an NHS GP, and those benighted Australians don’t have the NHS to save them, or they wouldn’t have needed to introduce a Police State in the first place.

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About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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