When another job appears on the screen, the student paramedic riding in the back of the truck stuffs his head through the hatch.
‘Anything good?’ he says.
I’ve been wincing so much this shift I’m developing a twitch. The student means well, but carries himself awkwardly, like a kid in dressing-up clothes pretending to smoke with a pencil. When he speaks to the patients it’s such a disaster I half expect to see comic book sounds in the air. Clang! Pow! Thunk!
To the alcoholic: ‘How many units of alcohol do you drink a day?’
‘What do you mean? Units?’
‘Well how much do you drink, then?’
‘How much do you drink?’
‘Obviously not as much as you.’
To the woman who took an overdose:
‘What made you take the pills, then?’
‘My husband of thirty years decided he doesn’t want me anymore. He’s moved in with the lodger.’
‘Where does she live?’
‘In the room across the hall.’
‘Oh. So are you moving out, then?’
To the old woman who just wants to die at home.
‘Let me do your blood pressure.’
‘I’m not going to hospital. I will not go to that place again. I would rather die here in my chair and be done. I’m ninety one, for goodness sake. What’s the point of dragging things out? I’ve had my time. I’ve enjoyed it – I’ve had a lovely marriage, three beautiful children, and I simply think it’s time for me to move on. All I do is sit in this chair staring out of the window. Where’s the life in that? Ouch! That cuff’s rather tight again.’
‘Well if you’d only stop talking for a moment I might be able to hear.’
Three o’clock in the morning. Six years of shift work heavy inside me like the fossilised remains of something. I can feel it sitting there, as scuffed and cold as the moon that drifts up over the sea. I climb into the cab with a cup of tea, look for my book, click on the overhead light, settle back for a five minute read.
The door opens.
‘Do we have a traction splint on the vehicle? Did you check that earlier?’
‘A traction splint. I need to have a look at one to get it signed off in my book.’
‘Look – I, erm – I really don’t want to be getting any kit out right now.’
‘But I need to get it signed off.’
‘It’s three o’clock in the fucking morning.’
‘It’s got to be done.’
‘Some other time, mate. The day time.’
‘I’ll ask Frank.’
He closes the door again.
‘Good luck with that,’ I say to myself, then settle down lower – much, much lower – so low it’s apparent to anyone, even to me, that I am now more chair than man.