I was fairly new on the job during the summer of 1991. I was 36 years old, and had kicked around in life before coming onto the job. I wasn’t exactly young and impressionable, but still, I had a lot to learn about both life and police work. I had attended and completed two Police Academies, and completed my Field Training (FTO) period, but I was still a probationary patrol officer that summer. I was working a sector car by my lonesome, and one evening I was sent to a “check condition” call of a person who was suicidal. Pretty common call in police work.
The cop that was sent with me was an old timer who had several years on the job. He was definitely a salty veteran. When I came on the job, the culture of MPD, for the most part was, if you had no or little time on the job, you kept your eyes open and your mouth shut. Not everyone subscribed to this theory, and it was more a generational thing that the older cops subscribed to, not so much the younger cops. That unwritten rule slowly went away as the cops that had come on the job in the 60’’s and 70’s also went away, into retirement or on to other careers.
The cop that was sent with me was one of those old timers named Charlie. He worked the same shift as I did, 6PM to 230 AM. The man would never talk to me. I’d ride up the elevator with him to roll call and I’d say “HI” and he’d either ignore me or tell me where to go. I got it, and accepted it. I will add that once I had some time on the job, I never treated a rookie or young officer this way.
Once, he was working a traffic detail and I stopped and offered to get him a coffee or cold drink and he started cursing in colorful language, telling me to get away. Such was the culture of police work where I worked in 1991. So to hell with him, I thought, and I never talked to him again, unless there was a work related necessity.
So, Charlie backs me up on this call. Of course, upon arrival he refused to talk to me, same as always, and we find the suicidal subject. She was seated in a sofa chair in her living room, was very distraught and we tried to talk with her. We attempted to establish a rapport with her, then tried to convince her to go to the hospital voluntarily. We were able to learn that she took a large amount of her prescription meds, so this was a serious suicide attempt. If we didn’t get to a hospital, she surely would have died.
While we are trying to talk with her, (at the time, since she was awake, the law prevented us from forcing her to get medical care, as amazing as that sounds) Charlie, the crusty old timer who refuses to talk with younger police officers, is on his knees, at her chair trying to convince her that she has much to live for, she is loved because someone cared enough to call for her and so on. Initially, I was shocked to see this display of compassion Charlie showed for this young woman he had never met before. I learned a lot about Charlie that day. He actually demonstrated what compassion meant for a police officer, and because of that, I never looked at him the same again.
Eventually, after what seemed like an eternity, we prevailed, the young lady reluctantly agreed to go to the hospital, so we transported her to a hospital in Manchester. Again, back in the day, we could transport in our cruisers, if we decided it was prudent. So, finally after a lot of persuasion, she agrees to go to the hospital with us. We drive her, go in with her and talk to the ER personnel. She is admitted, and we go on our way.
Back in those years, if someone OD’d on meds, the medical treatment was to give the patient Liquid Charcoal. The patient could either voluntarily drink it, or have it force fed to her in a tube against her will, followed by a stomach pumping. I saw the procedure numerous times after that night, and it certainly wasn’t pleasant. Aside of that, when I left the hospital, I was very proud and happy that I was able to help this woman get the help she needed, and possibly saved her life. It’s all about helping people, right? I knew I had chosen the right profession.
I went about my business and at one point I had a lull during the shift. When it slowed down, I went back to the ER to check on her. The staff said she was doing better, and said I could go back to see her. I wanted to say HI and tell her I was worried about her and happy she decided to go to the hospital. I was glad she was feeling better.
She gave me a very cold stare, then after I spoke to her for a few minutes, she told me life is too painful for her to continue. She said all she wanted to do was go to sleep peacefully, never have to wake up and not have to feel the pain anymore. She asked me why I didn’t let her do that. She then made the following statement to me, which I have never forgotten: “I hate you for what you did to me. Get away from me.” I was stunned, to say the least. I was speechless. I certainly had no answer for her. She clearly wanted nothing to do with me, and I believed at the time she truly hated us for what we had done. I awkwardly backed away from her, turned away went back to my cruiser. It certainly was an eye opener for me, at least as far as dealing with what used to be called, MDPs or Mentally Disturbed Persons. I was shocked at her behavior, but in the months to come, I would be shocked even more when I regularly saw the capacity humans had for harming themselves or others.
I sat for a bit, and after a few minutes I informed communications I was back in service. I was immediately sent to my next call. The rhythm of the job continued on that night. During the weeks that followed I answered all types of calls and the seemingly never ending steady cadence of the job continued. There were other problems and crisis’ to solve. I found out early, that instead of spending most of my time chasing bad guys around the streets, I spent more time dealing with people in crisis and trying to solve problems that often were unsolvable for a police patrol officer. Things that were never in the brochure.
Still though, until this day, that call and her comments to me remain seared in my memory. That call was kind of a milestone in my new job. So began my new education in police work.