Every face tells a story

Well, most do. During my career I became good at reading some patients’ faces, in particular their eyes. You become good at being able to tell if they are lying, or hiding something. Then you start to notice sadness, hurt, sometimes happiness when you chat about certain subjects.

This is usually a good thing, but sometimes it’s not. Sometimes you’d see some sadness and, when you mentioned it, the defensive walls would crumble and the patient would open their heart to you. As helpful as this usually was to the patient it, more often than not, left you with an unexpected insight into that person’s hurts. Some of our regular alcoholics began to trust us because of this. We weren’t there to condemn them, we were there to help them. In front of their drunken chum’s they were mouthy and brave, alone in the back of the ambulance their true personality would often appear. Most had stories to tell, the reason they became dependent on alcohol, the wonderful lives they’d had before their addiction, the tragedy that made them look for comfort in a bottle….

She was in her late 20s, had come from another country to earn a PhD. While here, her father had died suddenly back home but she couldn’t afford to return to be with her family and attend his funeral. She saught comfort in alcohol and met a guy, already alcohol dependant, who dragged her into a dark world of alcohol abuse. We attended her lots, drunk and incapable, unable to stand or walk. Basically her “boyfriend” didn’t want to take responsibility for her care. She would sit in the Ambulance and cry as she told us how much she wanted her old life back, how much she wanted to get her life back together. Every time it left you a bit sore inside. Then it made you angry when you found out the A&E staff had discharged her because there was nothing they could do for her.

I transferred to my country station and didn’t see her for a long time. Then, one day I met a police officer I knew, at a job in the the city. I asked if she was still a regular. She had died some time after I had last seen her, drunk herself to death. No one seemed bothered at the bright academic light that had gone out.

He was a proud soldier who had served his country, then his wife became ill and passed away. His comfort was from a bottle. He liked to create a scene in public places, but in the back of an ambulance he was a hurting man with a proud history. I never found out his fate, but I did find out that, when sober, he gave regular significant donations to a certain charity.

Every face has a story to tell. Not all are obvious, not all are that interesting, but all are important to the person to whom the face belongs. Before you judge, be sure you have considered all of the facts.

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