I can guarantee that the above phrase will ring a bell with pretty much every crew from Tolworth to Chase Farm. And probably many crews from Essex Ambulance Service, South East Coast, possibly even Yorkshire and Scottish Highlands. I wouldn’t even be surprised if some crews from Australia and Timbuktu are nodding knowingly. You see, this is the catchphrase of one of our most prolific regulars. Horace Halfpenny is a homeless, alcoholic gentleman with no affiliation to any particular area. He drifts around London, occasionally stopping off at payphones to call 999. Sometimes he asks a member of the public to call for him. But the problem is always the same. Horace’s bowels are hanging out. I’m led to believe that Horace’s bowels are indeed hanging out – but this is an ongoing problem and not an acute emergency. It has never quite been explained to me quite where they are hanging out from, what happened to cause this affliction or why the problem hasn’t been fixed. What I do know is that Horace has a reputation as an exceedingly impolite person, who has a tendency to swear at ambulance crews and fling his colostomy bag at them. He’s been taken to hospital countless times but nothing ever seems to get fixed and the next day he’s calling us again from the other side of London because his bowels are, once again, hanging out. He has no real need for an ambulance, what he really needs to do is stay put in his care home (he had one, but went AWOL from it, and every crew in London was under instruction to bring him back if they found him) and wait for an operation. The despair is tangible in crew’s voices when they get the call down their MDT – “Bowels hanging out? It’s going to be Horace Halfpenny, isn’t it? I’ll let you know now, we’ll be off the road after this call. Dirty vehicle and uniform. Possible stress break too.” Legend has it that one crew got so fed up with going to Horace that they took him to a hospital fifty miles outside London. He was back in our area within the week.

A few weeks ago, we received a call from the Fire Brigade from a blaze in a council tower block. The report came in from the first paramedic on scene: “We need HEMS – we’ve an adult male with 50% burns. He’s close to cardiac arrest.”

The DSO gave Control a call to let us know what had happened. The patient was still alive, but they weren’t optimistic about his chances. He’d been taken straight to hospital by helicopter – meaning that the priority was to save his life, rather than get him to a burns unit to treat the burns. He also let us know the patient’s name. You’ve probably already guessed it – it was Horace Halfpenny. It turned out that he’d just been housed by the council after years of homelessness. And somehow, he’d managed to set fire to that home.

So in the weeks that followed, the phone booths of London were quiet. There were no more calls to people whose bowels were hanging out. Colostomy bags remained unflung. Ambulances crews everywhere breathed a sad sigh of relief. In Control, we asked around to see if anyone had seen a call transferring Horace to a burns unit. But no one had. Horace must have died. Although no one liked Horace and everyone thought he was a thorough pain in the neck, we did feel sad. Like all our regulars, he was an institution. And how tragic it was that he’d died just as he’d finally got somewhere to live.

Then, last week, we had a call from a phone box.

“My bowels are hanging out!” exclaimed Horace. “AND I’ve got fifty percent burns!”

Published Feb 12, 2009 - 15 Comments and counting

15 Comments on “My Bowels Are Hanging Out”
  1. Posh Totty Says:

    hehe it sounds very much like you all have a love hate relationship with good ole Horrace.

  2. Happy Medic Says:

    Good to know regulars are in all systems.
    Always bad to hear another human being hurt. Figures that the time he does stay indoors, he gets hurt even more.
    Great story, great site!


  3. Always Tired Says:

    ahhhhh *nods knowingly* we have a couple like that in our area (although their bowels hanging out would be a new one) one who likes to use the local rail system to travel around (for free of course!), another who is constantly pregnant with either twins or triplets (we know this isn’t true because lets just say biologically it isn’t possible) and is having a miscarriage and a new one to us recently who announces himself as ‘King Henry the Eighth speaking, you will address me as Your Majesty’
    Personally I find him kind of funny

  4. Bouncy Says:

    Aww, bless good old Horace!

    Lost count of the amount of calls I’ve had from him, but never gone to him on the road yet.

    My favourite was a panic stricken police officer who had taken over the mobile phone call from an equally concerned passer-by. They were calling in a “barely conscious patient with abdominal wounds” who they were apparently very worried about. Just as I was checking the call log to see that an ambulance was already well on the way, I heard the words “colostomy bag” spoken in the backround and tiny bell went off in my head.
    “What’s the patient’s name?” I suspiciously enquired of the policeman. “Horace Halfpenny” came the reply.
    No sooner had I entered this information onto the system than the ambulance was immediately diverted to a lower priority, but likely more deserving, patient.
    Evidently my colleagues on the dispatch desk were well aquainted with Horace as well!

  5. in-the-margins Says:

    I’m curious: what category of call does “my bowels are hanging out” come out of the computer system with?!

  6. Melph Says:

    Horaces category varies wildly depending on what he says and who takes the call! I’m surprised how relieved I am that he is still alive!

  7. Auntie Jane Says:

    Oh dear… Poor Horace… Poor Ambulance crews. I am sorry, but I can’t help laughing… A lovely story, sad as it is.

    And the punch line: He gets given a flat then sets fire to it and nearly kills himself. You couldn’t make it up.

  8. K Says:

    Oh god he’s back eh? It’s been a while, I can’t say I’ve missed him…

    And the reason his bowels are hanging out is cos of his colostomy bag – if he stopped pulling it out and chucking it at ambulance crews there would be no problem! Everyone I know in the service (North of the river anyway – don’t really know anyone south) knows him. What a treat.

  9. Flora Gardens Says:

    He started life in the West area.

    He used to call fom a payphone outside Cheslsea and Westminster hospital, mainly because he kept getting thrown out of there. Incredibly, he used to sleep in Brompton Cemetery, and policewere once called to him because a helpful passer by had told them he had “come across an unburied body in the cemetery”.

    He is a horrible awful person and I hate him to death.

  10. sue Says:

    I came across him in an A&E dept one night and he smells so unbelieveably bad!! He wouldnt sit still and kept getting up to ask the triage nurse when he was going to be seen – and spreading his odour even further!

    His bowel is supposed to be “hanging out”. The surgeon did that deliberatly, called a colostomy. Most of us keep our stomas covered up though!!

  11. helen-louise Says:

    I can’t work out whether I’m allowed to laugh at this post… but I’m laughing anyway, in an ironic sort of way. Can’t help feeling there should be some other sort of service that gets sent to the regulars when there isn’t really a medical problem, but I don’t know what.

  12. Central medic Says:

    This made me laugh out loud, for we (just south of the West End) know Horace very very well indeed. He used to reside in a phone box not far from St Thomas, from where he could (and did) easily ring us, several times a day. Rumours that he was a leftover from a top secret military-industrial complex biological warfare project were never proved.
    To put him in your ambulance entailed a good hours-worth of deep cleaning and airing afterwards.
    And yes, he was once taken from there to Epping Forest by one exasperated crew. The local police brought him straight back… North London, he’s all yours.

  13. Mark Myers Says:

    Central Medic: I live in North London and one night I got a call from him in a call box about 100 metres from my house!!! I was not impressed. I told the crew to remove him from the vicinity as quickly as possible.

    Sue: Thank you for cleaning out the “bowel mystery”. So to speak.

  14. Katherine Howell Says:

    I love this! But why is that that the worst ones always survive the incidents that would kill any normal person? Where I worked Down Under we had a similar frequent flyer, a woman who would call you mostly to flash at you, then fell in a drunken stupor one day and fractured her skull. She got helicoptered to a major hospital, it looked like she was a goner, then what do you know, two weeks later we get a call, turn up to the phone box and get an eyeful.

  15. Nee Naw - New Sector, New Regulars Says:

    [...] are the regulars I have become familiar with in my first month on my new sector: Horace Halfpenny Currently residing in a hostel on my sector after making a miraculous recovery from 50% burns. [...]

    Nee Naw
    Nee Naw was a blog about life in the London Ambulance Service control room. It was written by Suzi Brent from 2005 to 2010. The blog is no longer being updated, but the archives will remain here.
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