A kitchen brittle with light, its neat domestic scene laid open in the afternoon, bright aluminium and white ceramic. Raw wood.
‘I drained the water from the bath,’ the husband whispers as we hurry through. One of my bags hooks a stool over; it crashes to the tiled floor.
‘Don’t worry,’ he says. ‘I’ve got it.’
His wife is lying dead in the emptied bath, legs hooked up on her right side, feet and hands wrinkled and grey from the water, eyes half opened, like someone figuring distance. Her teeth are clamped shut, her lips grey blue, drawn back.
I lean over, grab her under the arms and lift her up into a sitting slump.
Rae gives me her wrists, then hooks her under the legs.
We top and tail her out onto the laminate flooring. The flopping, landed lump of her. Her head bops back on the floor. I start compressions. Her ribs crack for the first three or four. Bloodied water pumps out of her nose.
The Community Responders go into the kitchen to talk to the husband, replaced by an ECP and another paramedic. Some more of the family have gathered in the kitchen. We hear them as we work.
Tubes and pads and cannulas, blankets and inco pads, torn boxes, plastic lids flipped and thrown. Lines and leads everywhere.
Time passes. Someone takes over the compressions so I can pick my way over the chaos and out to organise the exit. I have to go through the kitchen. I want to touch the husband on the shoulder as I pass but he shrinks back from me. They all do. I am death passing through their kitchen. I feel them close back around my absence.
I figure that the best route is through the french windows in the living room and out through the garage. No other angle will work for the scoop. I make the ambulance ready, take the trolley down on the lift, put it into position and then go back inside along that route to make sure everything is clear and ready for the move.
I hear the defib metronome counting out compressions in the bathroom, tagging the seconds as they flow implacably through the house.
Beep, beep, beep goes The Little Red Beacon in the Void.
Beep, beep, beep.
We parcel her up and carry her out.
The second ambulance takes the husband.
I do compressions en route.
The ECP in the back with me manages the airway.
‘It’s been a lovely day today,’ he says, holding the suction catheter with the insouciance of a dentist. ‘Nice and hot.’
He smiles up at me. I shake my head to clear my face of sweat. The sunglasses I had pushed up onto my hair and forgotten about, clatter off into some corner.
The aspirator jug bubbles with bloody water.
‘Good compressions,’ he says. ‘You’re clearing her lungs nicely.’
The ambulance barrels on.
As I’m coming out of the resus room I see an elderly couple standing hesitantly by the main doors. The husband’s parents. I take them with me to the relatives’ room, where the husband is waiting. The elderly man lags behind, bewildered, stopping and looking around.
‘Don’t let’s lose Bob. He’s ninety-two, you know,’ she says.
She takes his hand, I take hers, a chain of us through the department to the relatives’ room.
The husband stands up as we come to the open doorway. The foam seats around him in the room are so brightly purple it looks more like a children’s soft play area. But there are leaflets in a rack, a print on the wall, flowers on the table.
‘Can you tell us? Is there any hope?’ the elderly woman says to me as I let go of her hand. The husband looks at me. The question he dared not ask.
I know the woman has been declared dead already, but I say: ‘The doctor in charge is on his way. Let me get him for you.’
Back in the resus room, the doctor is having an earnest discussion close in with a junior doctor.
‘Ah,’ he says to me. ‘Just two things: patient’s name, husband’s name.’
I tell him. He rehearses them, then slaps the junior doctor on the arm.
‘Come on,’ he says, ‘This way.’ And they walk out together, shoulder to shoulder.