The last thing to clean is the carry chair. I put on another pair of blue gloves, pull the chair out of its cupboard, carry it off the back of the ambulance, set it up, and then step back in again to fetch a canister of surface wipes. When I come back out, a young guy is standing over beside the automatic doors to A & E, looking down into a mobile phone. He catches my eye, nods a hello, then shuffles over uncertainly for a chat.
‘Thanks for coming earlier,’ he says, stuffing his phone in the back pocket of his jeans and then standing neutrally as if he were awaiting further instructions.
‘That’s okay. How’s he doing?’
‘Oh – he’s okay. The idiot. One of the doctors had heard of those pills and he says they’re not too bad. He says it’s a kind of plant treatment that they can sell as a vaguely legal e or something. Weird.’
I picture the smart little pill folder to myself – the silhouette of a dancer against a bright yellow sunflower.
‘But he did say that maybe taking two at once was pushing it.’
I carry on with my cleaning and he watches me work.
‘He got a bit freaked when his heart start beating like some kind of cookery timer, though. I don’t think he’s cut out for these weird extracts. The idiot.’
‘There’s always something,’ I say, but I don’t know what I mean. It stalls the conversation. I worry away at a seam of faecal matter just below the lip of the seat.
‘Busy night then?’
‘Oh. Not too bad. You know.’
‘I hope we didn’t waste your time. We didn’t know what else to do. He was well freaked by it all. The nut job.’
‘I’m glad it’s all worked out ok.’
The seat’s clear now. I move on, methodically wiping down the struts, back, rings, joints, foot rest, throwing each wipe into the yellow clinical waste bag that I’ve set up on the ground beside me.
He watches me.
I feel like spilling the whole sorry episode out to him, telling him who the last occupant of this carry chair was, a man who had been hauled drowned and lifeless by his elderly father up out of a bath of freezing water, and whose father we had seen trying to compress his son’s chest and talk on the phone at the same time whilst the family dog howled in the room next door. I want to tell him that our attempts to revive the man on the filthy bathroom floor had been hopeless, or try to describe how difficult it was to lift him in such a cramped and slippery environment up off the floor and on to the chair when it was time to go. I want to tell him that when I sat the mother in the cab with me to follow the leading ambulance to hospital, I’d forgotten that we’d left the radio on in our rush to go into the house, that I still didn’t realise how loud the music was playing as I explained what would happen next, and how stupid I’d felt when the mother reached forward, turned it off and said ‘Sorry. I don’t think I can listen to this at the moment.’ I want to tell him how she rode up to the hospital with her hands folded in her lap, shocked white and calm, and how we’d both watched as the blue lights of the ambulance carrying her son gradually sparkled further and further off into the night ahead of us. I want to tell him that at hospital by the relative’s room she’d politely insisted to the charge nurse that she be allowed into the resus room, and how respectfully she was received when she was eventually led through those doors.
‘Do you think we’ll be here all night?’ the young guy asks me.
For a second I’m disoriented and don’t know who he means. I straighten up, toss the last wipe into the bag and look at him.
‘Let’s hope not,’ I say, and notice Rae walking over with two cups of coffee. ‘Let’s hope not.’
I peel off the blue gloves. They follow the wipes into the bag.