An old house in an old part of town. A young girl stands framed in the enormous doorway, an elegant fan light spread above her, two broad steps inlaid with a multi-coloured mosaic pattern leading up. She leans back against the doorframe and smiles shyly, her teeth wired into line by a stout wire gantry. I wave, help Rae pull the resus bag, drugs bag and carry chair out of the back of the truck, then foot the door shut and head up towards her.
I think: I’ll be surprised if this really is a Category A unconscious.
But say: ‘Hello. Where’re we going, then?’
The girl blushes and points up at the sky.
‘Top flat. And no lift,’ she adds pleasantly, shrugging her shoulders, as if the Georgian architect had decided against installing one out of sheer cussedness.
We haul ourselves up the steep staircase, mindful of the rucks and folds of the carpet.
‘We’ll be needing oxygen soon,’ Rae says, repositioning the heavy yellow bag.
‘Not far now,’ laughs the girl from above us, her braces glinting in the light from a tiny landing window.
Another two flights and we step onto a sunny hallway with three doors leading off. One of them stands open, and the girl leads us into a bright bedsitting room, ordered in an ingenious, below-decks fashion, with every space and surface adapted to serve at least two functions, and every article folded, marked and stored neatly away. There are two sofa-beds in the room, but one of them is still in use from the night before. A middle aged woman is sitting on the side of it, her hands placed either side of her and her long black hair hanging straight down like black water from a pump.
‘This is Momma. Momma doesn’t speak English, so I’ll translate.’
The family is from Slovakia. The mother, Emilia, is working as a cleaner; Sara, the daughter, is studying at a local secondary school. Sara called a helpline number for advice when her mother fell ill with a temperature and a headache last night and still felt bad this morning. The helpline advised calling for an ambulance. We examine her carefully, but nothing Emilia says – earnestly reported back via her daughter – and nothing in her observations suggests anything more serious than a viral infection of some sort. The mother had not taken any pain medication, so we give advice about this, along with a recommendation to see her GP if there is still no improvement over the next twenty four hours.
Sara helps with the translation and gives us the information we need with a warmth that does not diminish even when we say that we think she should stay with her mother to keep an eye on her for the rest of the day.
‘Of course,’ she says, tapping her notebook. ‘There’s plenty for me to do.’
We complete the paperwork, pick up the bags and chair, and leave.
Half way down the stairs I turn to Rae and say: ‘At last - gravity working for us, for a change.’ And immediately trip on the carpet.
Instinctively I fling the bags ahead of me and flatten myself against the wall to stop myself toppling head first down the staircase. Amazingly I manage to avoid a catastrophic swallow dive onto my head, and instead end up my arse with my legs pointing upwards, one arm spread up the wall and the other out to the side, five or six steps below Rae. She looks down at me.
‘Are you okay, Spence?’
I flex a couple of things. Everything seems to work. ‘Yep. I think so.’
She looks down at me, sniffs and says: ‘Yep. That’s gravity for you, mate.’