There is a spread of incident hot spots across town so notorious they should be commemorated in the pavement like Grauman’s Chinese Theatre – although rather than the hand prints of movie stars, it would be a splatter of plaster and brown mosaic tiles, an intaglio face, fuck off jabbed out in concrete with an index finger, the impression of a fist.
The ramp outside the Baby Zee nightclub would definitely feature on the tour.
We’ve been here so often, it’s always interesting to see how far the patient made it up the ramp before the tequila, vodka and simple gravity dragged them to the floor.
Shelley succumbed at the third pillar – classic – where the incline of the ramp starts to kick in. Initially we can see she is sitting up, sipping from a pint mug of water. But as soon as she sees us approach, she puts her forehead back down on the tarmac, splaying her legs out right and left at the knee like a giraffe in a faint at the water hole. Her friend puts the glass down and starts trying to pull her up, whilst her boyfriend leans back against the railings, chameleon-style.
A blissed-out clubber stands passively and beautifully, floating over the whole scene, commenting on the scope of it all, the emotion, the tragedy.
‘She needs help,’ she breathes as we reach the group. ‘By the way, I love what you do.’
Shelley’s friend, a bleach-blond harpy with an expression modelled in clay with a shovel, shrieks at us.
‘She going unconscious again. Do something. She needs her stomach pumping. Pick her up.’
‘Can you stand to the side and let us have a look?’
‘She’s got to go up the hospital and have her stomach pumped.’
She bends down and hugs her friend. ‘Stay with me, babe. The paramedics are here. They’re going to take you to hospital.’
‘I don’t want no hospital,’ says Shelley. ‘I want to go home.’
‘That’s fairly clear,’ I say to her friend. ‘How were you planning to get home tonight?’
‘Her mum was going to pick us up later.’
‘So couldn’t you just give her a ring now?’
‘I’ve tried but she’s not answering. She set her alarm for four. She’s probably still asleep.’
‘Why don’t you try again?’
‘But she’s unconscious! Look at her. She needs her stomach pumping.’
‘She’s not unconscious. She’s just had a bit too much to drink. Hospital’s not really the place for her.’
The girl bends down again and starts trying to pull Shelley to her feet.
‘Come on, Shell. Babe. Listen to me. You’ve got to go to hospital and have your stomach pumped.’
I tap her on the shoulder and she stands up again.
‘That’s not actually something they do for this.’
‘Yeah, but you could play along with me.’
‘Look. If she says she doesn’t want to go, we can’t force her.’
‘What do you mean? If she was having a stroke, yeah? And she said she didn’t want to go, yeah? Would you just walk away?’
‘She’s not having a stroke, though, is she? She’s just had too much to drink. All she needs is to go home and recover there.’
The girl bends back down.
‘Shell? Shell! You’ve got to get up.’
‘Just fuck off and leave me,’ she says. ‘I don’t want no ambulance.’
‘I’ll tell you what. We’ll go and fetch our trolley down. Maybe she’ll change her mind and let us help her up, then we can go up in the warm and talk about what to do there. All right? Shan’t be a moment.’
As we walk back up the ramp, I hear her say to her boyfriend: Can you fucking believe it? She’s dying and they don’t give a shit.
We come back with the trolley, park it alongside Shelley and make one last effort to persuade her to come. She’s not wearing much and her shoes are gone, but just in makeup and false lashes she’s got to be two hundred and twenty pounds. She does nothing to help.
‘I don’t want to go,’ she says, jerking her arms away as we try to help her stand. ‘Fuck off and leave me alone.’
‘That’s pretty clear,’ I tell her friend. ‘We can’t just kidnap her.’
‘Fucking unbelievable,’ she says. ‘I don’t pay my taxes for this. Look at her!’
Two men suddenly appear, cutting right in front of me. They are rounded, hairy, arms by their sides and palms-back, a couple of giant, undercover beavers in stoner t-shirts trying to fit in.
‘What’s going on?’ one says. ‘We’re first aiders.’
I tap him on the shoulder. It feels as if I’m in a waking dream where I’m going round town tapping people on the shoulder.
‘Excuse me, mate? Could you just move over there out of the way?’ I say to him.
‘We’re first aiders,’ he says.
‘Yeah? Well we’re paramedics.’
He gives a little movement, like the startle reflex of a baby.
‘Oh. Sorry. I didn’t realise.’
I want to point out the trolley, and the fluorescent lettering on our jackets, but I don’t have the energy. A wince is all I can manage.
‘Here. You can have a blanket to keep warm,’ I say, turning back to Shelley, fetching one off the trolley and passing it down to her. Then I turn to her friend: ‘Try her mum again. It won’t take her long to get here. And really, hospital’s not the place for someone who’s just had a little too much to drink.’
But in the time it takes for me to do this, the two beavers have stepped in again. They bend down, lift Shelley up and drop her on the trolley.
‘There you go!’
No-one is more amazed than Shelley, but as soon as her body registers the softness of the padding, she falls asleep.
Even though the intercession is galling, at least it means we can go.
We start pushing her up the slope.
‘Call yourself a paramedic,’ says her friend, sniping at my back. ‘You’re a fucking disgrace.’
‘And by the way – don’t think you’re coming with us,’ I tell her over my shoulder. ‘You’ve been rude and unhelpful and I’m not having you on the ambulance. Make your own way.’
‘Fine,’ she says, dropping back. ‘Shell – Shell? You’ll be fine now, hun. Love you, darl’.’
We carry on up.
But the stoner beavers are tagging along beside me now. The leader speaks.
‘I’m sorry about what happened back there,’ he says.
‘Forget about it.’
‘No – listen. I’m sorry. We didn’t really understand what was happening. But I’d like you to think about how you talk to people.’
‘Please. Not another word.’
‘I understand you’ve got a difficult job. You must see this a lot.’
‘Honestly, I don’t want to speak to you.’
‘But I think you should try to see the other person’s point of view sometimes. I don’t think you were listening to her. I don’t think you really got what she was trying to say.’
We load Shelley onto the tail lift and raise her up.
‘Guys – thanks for your help. You did what you thought was right, and that’s fine. Now, if you could just go away. I don’t want to say any more about it.’
‘Come on. Don’t be like that. We’re only trying to help. We thought she had alcohol poisoning.’
‘Alcohol poisoning? She was talking to us perfectly rationally. She was sitting up and sipping water when we got there, for God’s sake. She was perfectly able to tell us she didn’t want our help. She certainly doesn’t need to go to A&E for having a bit too much to drink. It’s crowded enough up there as it is without pissed-up teenagers lying around vomiting everywhere. So now we’re taking her in, and I’ve got to explain to the staff there exactly why the hell I’ve brought her up. So like I say – thanks for everything. But if you want the honest truth - it was no help at all. That’s just the price you pay, I suppose.’
They stand close together as I slam the back door shut.
By the time we’ve cleared up at the hospital and are sitting in the cab with a coffee, Shelley’s friend arrives in a taxi. She pays him off, then stands and waits by the entrance, jiggling her mobile phone in her hand and stepping anxiously from foot to foot. Moments later she straightens as a car swings up onto the forecourt. It parks quickly, any-old how, and a woman gets out, slamming the door behind her and stabbing it shut with the electronic key. She stuffs the keys into a shoulder-bag which she has in a headlock under her arm, then strides across the car park towards Shelley’s friend, who doesn’t so much as follow her inside, as allow herself to be dragged behind in her wake.