From time to time, our ward looks more like a police lock-up than a haven of healing. By every bed there are two policemen preventing the escape of the patient, and usually watching television at the same time. Sometimes they and their captives chat amicably; at other times there is a sullen silence between them.
Last week we had one of the jollier type of suspects in our ward. He was what is known in the trade as a body packer: a man (or woman) who transports heroin or cocaine by swallowing packets and recovering them from the other end of his digestive tract a few days later, in the privacy of a lavatory. This is the modern equivalent, I suppose, of the transport of nitroglycerine in The Wages of Fear: for one burst packet of cocaine means certain death. I am not sure whether the jolly body packer was unaware of the danger he was in, or merely set a low value on his own life.
The police, of course, were interested in his faeces. The law states, however, that an Englishman’s poo is his property, and to search it without the owner’s consent requires a search warrant. I had mistakenly supposed that, once shed, it was in the public domain. One learns these arcane things through experience.
I spoke in private to the body packer (of Jamaican descent, as most of them are) about his life. He prefaced his remarks by admitting that he was no angel, in case I was under any misapprehension on that score. If I had been, his gold front tooth alone would have disabused me. His body bore the scars of various fights: he had been ‘cut’ many times, though he had no bullet wounds as yet, and therefore wasn’t a real man. I asked him whether he was violent.