Five o’clock in the morning and the sky has a fuzz of blue about it that marks The Change. I can feel it in me, too, as if my blood and bones are orientating to the same rising point. I’m through the three o’clock subsea numbness, that dead or alive slump that makes shift work so difficult. The only way is up.
I knock again. There are lights on through the house, but all the curtains are closed and nothing moves.
We’ve been called here to help with a lift. Apparently a crew was dispatched to pick a large woman off the floor, and Control has sent us, too, pre-empting a request for help, and because we happened to be passing.
I knock again whilst Frank steps across the flower bed and bangs on the window.
The first crew’s ambulance is parked right outside, so I can’t think that we have the wrong number.
‘Maybe they’re mid-manoeuvre and can’t come to the door,’ says Frank, goose-stepping over a desiccated lavender bush. ‘Or trapped under a heavy piece of furniture.’
Just as I reach out to knock again, the door is yanked open. Rich, an EMT from out of town, stands there looking hot.
‘Resus,’ he says, and then turns to go back inside. We follow close on his heels. He gives us the main facts over his shoulder: Ninety year old female. Husband thought she’d fallen over when she got out of bed to go to the loo. Rang for an ambulance to help get her up. Didn’t do any CPR. Doesn’t know how bad she is. Took us twenty minutes to get here. Asystole since we started. No cardiac PMH.
We follow Rich into a room where a woman is lying on her back, rolled flat by the cataclysm that has been visited upon her. Two single beds have been pushed together and a table and chest of drawers piled on top to make space. The woman is naked, her nightie cut in two, flowing out either side of her like trampled wings. Sophie is kneeling beside her, compressing her chest.
‘Here. Let me take over that,’ I say to her.
‘Thanks, mate,’ she says, stiffly getting to her feet. ‘God. My knees are so creaky these days.’
Rich takes over the ventilations.
‘How long have you been going now?’
‘What is it? Ten minutes?’ says Rich.
Frank goes back down the stairs to fetch his para bag; Sophie goes with him to chat to the husband.
‘How’s he taking it?’
‘I don’t think he really understands what’s happened.’
Rich wipes his forehead with the back of his hand.
‘Christ, you know – we weren’t expecting any of this. It came through as an assist back to bed. She was crammed over against the wardrobe. We had a hell of a job to get some space cleared and get her on her back.’
The woman’s body shifts beneath my compressions with lifeless passivity. I hear Frank clumping back up the stairs with his gear.
‘They didn’t tell us this was a resus,’ I say. ‘We were sent by just in case you needed a hand.’
‘That’s lucky, then. We were just about to call for back-up…’
All the drugs and extra equipment are to no avail. The woman is beyond rescue. After more than twenty minutes, we all agree that nothing more can be done. We tidy the woman up, lift her into bed and make her presentable, restore the furniture as best as possible and stuff all our rubbish into a yellow bag. Whilst Rich finishes off, we head off back down the stairs. We stop off in the living room to say goodbye.
An elderly man in tidy blue pyjamas and a dressing gown tied at the waist, is sitting forward on a floral-patterned armchair with his arms resting on his knees, staring down at his hands. Behind him on the wall is a generous spread of framed photographs: weddings, holidays, formal family portraits, a dog looking out from a garden – many of the photos looking leached out now, further away, their greens and yellows and reds and blues drawn up and ghosted by all the bright sunlight this window must have let in over the years.