This morning when I saw I was down to work with Aidan, well, I may as well have climbed into the cab and shaken hands with The Grim Reaper. If ever a vacancy came up for a fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse, the only thing that would prevent Aidan getting the job are his looks. He would be marked down for clear blue eyes, gently freckled skin and that particularly engaging brand of innocent mischievousness you only ever see in children aged about twenty-five.
So – as is the norm for Aidan – we started the day with a difficult and fatal cardiac arrest at home, and then worked our way on through a paediatric respiratory distress in a public park through fits and falls of varying horror to a builder on a building site crying on the precipice of a heart attack. Aidan’s emotional working rhythm seems to be the doom-laden gong of a slave galley, his days characterised by a succession of terribly traumatised people in awful situations. No-one is immune – except Aidan, of course. He smiles and jokes and tweets and calmly smokes his roll-ups between jobs, the still eye of the hurricane, moving quietly across town as houses burst into fragments around him, and people run screaming into the streets.
‘Another chest pain, another dollar’ he says, piling the ambulance through the homeward bound traffic with such disdain cars bounce off our windscreen like hailstones. ‘Give me a break.’
The evening is grey blue and flat. A pervasive drizzle has rolled in off the sea and mugged the streets of all vitality. The statue of an angel holding up an olive branch marks the place on the promenade we need. When we pull up, I expect her to stuff it under her robes, climb down off the plinth and run off down the empty promenade. Surely she knows even a bronze angel would be in danger around Aidan.
‘There he is.’
A man bent over at the deserted coffee kiosk, supporting himself on the wooden shelf. But as I get closer I realise that he’s not in trouble, he’s just looking for a scrap of shelter whilst he makes a phone call. He frowns at me as I approach, and carries on frowning as I apologise and walk away.
An NFA windmilling from a sheltered bench further along the prom. I hunch my shoulders against the weather and head over.
John is sitting as drawn in as he can on the worn slatted bench, his hands buried deep in the pockets of his jacket, his chin tucked down into the collar. He only raises his eyes as I introduce myself, then gives a shuddering cough like a seal on a sandbank.
‘I didn’t call you,’ he says. ‘One of the others did.’
‘Well now we’re here – what’s been going on?’
‘My chest hurts.’
He takes out a reddened hand and makes a passing gesture. ‘It burns, all round here. Round the back.’ He tells me he has been feeling below par for a couple of weeks, a cold coming on. Four days ago he became homeless – ‘It’s complicated. There are two sides to every story.’ Spent most of the time since then sitting on this bench looking out to sea.
‘It’s got to the stage I can’t even stand up. I feel so sick and dizzy.’
We get him onto the ambulance. I help him out of several layers so I can listen to his chest, but I hardly need a stethoscope.
‘You have a chest infection,’ I tell him, draping the stethoscope over my shoulders and reaching for the thermometer. ‘You really need to come with us to hospital to get some treatment.’
He puts a t-shirt back on, the only one of his clothes to feel damp with sweat rather than rain, and shakes his head.
‘I’d rather not. They make me nervous,’ he says.
‘If you spend any more time outside you’ll become very ill indeed,’ I tell him.
Aidan takes another blood pressure and gives John a reassuring smile.
‘Come on mate,’ he says. ‘We’ll only be back for you later if you don’t.’
And I don’t doubt it’s the truth.