We walk down the slope to the club, towards the epicentre of the thumping, subterranean rhythm. The club's neon sign punches out a lurid pink hole in the darkness; beneath it, drawn from the deep hollows of the night like exotic moths, clubbers are massing. One girl is draped upside down on a barrier, looking like a strangely animated piece of discarded clothing. She is shouting into a mobile phone, but she’s not our patient. We excuse our way to the head of the queue and catch the eye of the doorman, who nods an acknowledgement, then tosses the nod across to another doorman, who immediately pushes through to us. He is massive, constructed rather than born, his head as square as his shoulders, and his eyes drilled in deep.
‘She’s over there on a bench with her brother. My opinion? Too much to drink. Some ecstasy, she says. Nothing, really. Emotional, that’s all. Pain in the arse. Want a look?’
I ask him if she’s able to walk, and if so, will he bring her over to us, as we won’t be able to hear or do much over where she is at the minute. He accepts this without any change in expression; in a moment, like a big black dog retrieving a fallen bird, he’s back, gripping a slumped woman by the arm. A man stands touching her other arm. He is a brittle looking guy of about thirty, well-dressed in expensive leather jacket and jeans, but his eyes are puffy; he stares at us gloomily like we’re the next goddamned thing to happen.
‘Whilst she’s on her feet, let’s get her up to the vehicle,’ I shout, taking advantage of the momentum of events. The doorman straight away marches her back up the slope with the woman almost losing her shoes as she drags herself along by his side, trying to keep up.
‘What’s the story, then?’
‘This is my sister Susie, yeah? She got a bit down tonight, you know? She’s had a little bit too much to drink, taken half an e and some charley up the nose, but nothing to write home about. It’s all just proved too much for her. Can you help us?’
At the back of the ambulance the doorman shrugs off any help, dumps the woman on the trolley, turns round and says: ‘Call sign?’
I give it to him. Before I can really thank him for his help he’s marching back down the slope.
‘Right. Let’s get to the bottom of this.’
Susie has immediately adopted the same posture on the trolley as the clubber on the rails, hanging upside down. She makes a sudden, cat-like heave, and I only have two seconds to get a bowl beneath her mouth before she starts emptying her stomach.
‘And you’re sure she’s had nothing else tonight?’ I ask the brother.
‘God’s truth,’ he says, rubbing his eyes. ‘I’ve never seen her like this before.’
But after we’ve taken a round of observations including an ECG, and talked to Susie – who is perfectly able to talk to us – it looks increasingly as if the doorman was right, that the only thing wrong with her is that she’s had too much to drink and isn’t coping well.
The vomiting has settled her, though. She rights herself on the trolley and starts to talk to us in more detail.
‘You don’t understand. You don’t understand what it’s like.’
‘What what’s like?’
She looks up at me through a mess of makeup, her face a twist of dreadful anguish.
‘We were supposed to be getting married in four weeks. Four weeks. And now he’s dumped me.’
‘That must be very difficult for you.’
‘I can’t believe he just dumped me. In the street!’
‘Well you know what I think,’ says the brother, rubbing his face in his hands. ‘You’re better off out of it. He’s done you a favour. Tosser.’
Rae keeps Susie supplied with paper towel whilst I finish off the paperwork. Eventually we reach the stage where we have to decide what happens next. I know this is going to be difficult.
‘Now, Susie – there’s nothing medically wrong with you, so I don’t think you need to go to hospital.’ They both nod, which is a good start. She blows her nose, then lies back on the trolley, rolled flat by nausea, and broken plans, and other people.
‘I think – all things considered – the emotional upset, the drink and the drugs that you’ve taken – I think the best thing would be to get yourself home, sleep it off and figure out what to do next when you’re fresher in the morning.’
‘Can you take us home, then?’ asks the brother. Susie opens her eyes and looks up at me again.
‘Unfortunately that’s not what we’re here for. We can only take you to hospital, and like I say, that’s not the best place for Susie at the moment. Especially when you consider that it’s a Friday night, and A&E will be looking like a war-zone. No. What I suggest is that you get yourself a taxi and make your own way home.’
‘What taxi is going to accept her in that state?’
‘You’re right. Most taxis won’t even think about letting anyone on board who they think might throw up on their seats. So what I suggest is that – Susie – you make a big effort to walk over to the taxi rank looking as sober as you possibly can. You haven’t got far to go. They’ll take that into account, too.’
Susie stares at me.
‘You want to dump me, too,’ she says. ‘You want to throw me out in the street.’
‘No, no. It’s not like that. We’ve just got to think about what’s best.’
‘I’ve paid my national insurance. All these years I’ve worked, I’ve coughed up. Why can’t you take me home?’
‘Because we’re an ambulance, not a taxi.’
‘But a taxi’s not going to take us home.’
‘Sorry, Susie. But the only other thing I can do is take you to hospital – which I will do if you insist, even though there’s nothing wrong with you. But then you’ll be further from home than you are now, it’ll cost you more, and it’ll delay you getting home to your own bed and all the comforts that you need right now.’
‘Great,’ she says, balling up another tissue and throwing it into a corner. ‘Fucking hell. I can’t believe you won’t take us home.’
The brother stands up.
‘Come on, Susie,’ he says. ‘This is a waste of time. Just try to walk straight and look decent.’
We help her off the vehicle, discretely giving her another vomit bowl to hide under her jacket.
‘Thanks for your help,’ says the brother, but it doesn’t sound sincere.
‘You’re welcome. Good luck with the taxi.’
They don’t answer, but draw themselves up to cross the road. She looks fine from here.