The private road veers up and off in an exclusive arc high above the main sea route, as illustrative of the residents’ earnings differential as a steep black line on a graph. The houses here – a grandly stucco’d selection of Caribbean villas, contemporary mansions and sternly cast homesteads with eagles on pillars and spiked electric gates – are set way back from the road. The caller must have used a telescope to report her concerns.
The car we want is easy to spot: a small, banana yellow affair parked crookedly by the raised grass bank at the verge. When we draw closer we can see a pair of legs sticking out of the opened passenger door, jeans down by the ankles, bare feet. I jump out of the vehicle.
There is a middle-aged woman lying across the two front seats, her head in an empty metal dog bowl. There is a bottle of vodka in one foot well, a can of deodorant in another, and around them both a scattering of empty pill packets. There are some clothes spilling out of a holdall on the back seat, but other than this the car seems quite well kempt.
‘Hello. It’s the ambulance. My name’s Spence and this is Rae. Can I ask your name?’
She raises her head to look at me like she’s being hauled up on a chain. She tries to speak, but her mouth is claggy with a white residue.
‘Say again,’ she manages.
‘It’s the ambulance. People are worried about you.’
She slumps back down again. ‘Hah. That’s rich.’
‘What’s happened to you today? Are you hurt in any way? Come on – sit up so we can talk to you.’
We help her. She starts making an ill-focused attempt to pull her trousers back up.
‘Sorry about this,’ she says.
‘Don’t worry about that for the moment. First things first. Can you tell me your name?’
‘What are all these pill packets here, Sandy? Have you taken them?’
She shakes her head.
‘Where are the pills then, Sandy?’
‘I was going to take them, but I didn’t’ she says, her cracked lips struggling up into something like a smile. ‘I wanted to kill myself, but I couldn’t’
‘Have you had much to drink?’
‘Half a bottle of vodka’
‘But no pills?’
She shakes her head.
‘Sandy – let us help you onto the ambulance so we can check you over properly and have a chat to decide what to do.’
She blinks asymmetrically, focuses on me, then hauls her mouth into a big statement.
‘I’m not going to hospital, so don’t even think about it.’
‘Sandy – to be quite blunt – we can’t force you to come to hospital, but we can’t possibly leave you here. If you refuse, we’ll call the police, they’ll arrest you, and you’ll end up in hospital anyway. At least if you come with us you won’t have all that extra fuss and embarrassment.’
She shakes her head and starts trying to pull her jeans up again. They are soaked through with urine.
‘Just give me a minute,’ she says.
I wonder if the caller is watching us from a balcony somewhere.
‘Where do you live, Sandy?’
She gives me an address, the other side of town.
‘What’s the dog bowl for?’
‘Is your dog here?’
‘I dropped him at my mother-in-law’s’
‘What sort of dog have you got?’
‘What – is that like a husky or something?’
‘No – squashy face’
She looks up at me, her eyes bloodshot and her face puffy with the trauma of everything.
‘Oh yes – I know’ I say, as if looking at her face has helped me place the dog. ‘A sharpy.’
We lift her into a carry chair and away into the ambulance. Rae locks Sandy’s car up and brings back her shoes and jacket. She has about five hundred pounds in cash in the pockets.
At the hospital, A&E is as busy as I’ve seen it in a while. There are crews queuing with their patients all along the corridor. When I go to handover to Elena, the charge nurse, she has a board marker in one hand, two clipboards in the other and one under her arm. She stands astride the centre of the department, dispensing order and place like a fierce blue postman sorting letters at Christmas.
‘Dehydrated old lady to resus one, pleuritic chest pain to cubicle three.’
(Takes a phone call, signs something, pushes a heap of forms across to a passing nurse).
‘And you,’ she smiles, hanging the phone up and then scrawling her signature onto my sheet, ‘You my friend, please could you take your OD to cubicle number five.’ She tosses the board back to me.
Sandy gets wheeled into position.