The art deco block sits back from the street behind a pair of substantial iron gates. Rae gets out and rings a number on the entry panel. Eventually the gates swing in. We park up, grab the bags we’ll need and go to the main entrance. There’s no-one there to meet us, so we ring again.
A hesitant voice, sobbing in the background: Yes?
The door buzzes.
We go through into a wide, bright hallway. Even though the building was converted into flats years ago, the black mosaic floor tiles still reflect the crystal chandelier that hangs from the domed ceiling four storeys above our heads.
A door opens across the hall and a young man waves.
He goes back inside.
The flat has the conspicuous untidiness of a hotel room, with laptops and keys and fast food cartons on the circular table by the window, and a stack of coats draped over the back of the sofa.
There are two twenty-year-old women sitting at the table, crying and tearing kitchen towel from a roll.
Another, slightly older woman lies unconscious on the sofa.
‘So who’ve we got here then?’ says Rae, leaning over her and taking her hand.
The girls reach out to hold onto each other.
The man says: ‘Repeat, please?’
All the people in the flat are foreign students. The man is the only one who speaks English at all, so we direct our questions to him. It soon becomes apparent that he doesn’t know the patient himself – she’s a friend of his girlfriend, Teresa, staying with them for a few days after splitting up with her partner. But when he relays our questions to Teresa, she’s either too upset or actually not so close to the woman that she can give us much.
‘She is called Luisa,’ he says, flicking the hair out of his eyes and leaning forwards. ‘Teresa say she think she have the low eh-sugar.’
I test her blood. Normal.
The wailing from the two girls increases every time we do any procedure, even innocuous things, like putting on a stethoscope and listening to Luisa’s breathing.
‘What exactly happened with her?’ asks Rae. ‘How did she end up on the sofa like this?’
Raphael spreads his hands wide and shakes his head.
‘She sleepy and very, very sad. She sleep it out for a while before and after we come. I think maybe it is her eh-sugars, yes?’
‘No. But something’s happened. Has she taken any pills you know of?’
Raphael speaks quickly to his girlfriend; still crying, she runs into the bathroom and comes back with a plastic sandwich bag half-filled with yellow and white tablets.
‘She have from Sao Paulo,’ says Raphael. ‘I don’t know for what they are. Teresa say is possible for the heart?’
‘We’ll take them,’ says Rae. ‘And I think we’ll have that chair now, Spence.’
I go back out for it, using my rolled-up gloves to keep the door from closing shut behind me.
When I set it up ready for the transfer from the sofa, Rae goes over the obs she’s made. Everything appears normal, but Luisa’s still flat. Her eyes are half-open, but her pupils scan backwards and forwards like a robot shorting out.
‘I’d put money on an overdose,’ says Rae. ‘Let’s get her out.’
The girls are standing by the window, arms around each other and crying as we strap Luisa onto our chair and manoeuvre her towards the flat door. Raphael hovers around us ineffectively, and has to be guided firmly to open doors, carry bags and so on. Still, he follows us out to the ambulance. I send him back to see if Teresa can find out Luisa’s date of birth at least. Whilst he’s gone and we’re about to transfer Luisa to the trolley, she becomes rigid and starts shaking. Blood jumps and bubbles out of her mouth as she clamps down on her tongue. We keep her positioned so she doesn’t choke, and help her ride out the fit in the chair. It passes quickly; we lift her onto the trolley, clean her face and as Rae preps her for the journey and subsequent fits, I meet Raphael at the door.
‘Teresa thinks Luisa has maybe twenty and four years,’ he says. ‘I’m sorry we don’t know the dates or where she lives, but she make study in London. Her boyfriend also. But she – erm – she came stay for few days because they finish boyfriend girlfriend no more. How is she?’
‘She’s just had a fit. My guess would be she’s taken an overdose of something, but that’s just a guess. We’ve got to get going now, Raphael.’
‘May I come too? Erm – Teresa she ask me to keep with phone and to give people informations at hospital. Is okay?’
‘That’s good of you, thanks.’
‘Okay. No problem.’
He rides with me up front.
‘If she wake, I can translate for you,’ he says.
‘That’s a help. Thanks.’
At the hospital Raphael waits outside making calls whilst we wheel Luisa through to resus. We give the team what we know; I book her in at reception and go outside to tell Raphael what to expect next.
I hop into the back of the ambulance to start tidying up; whilst I’m in there, I hear one of the receptionists come outside to speak to Raphael.
‘Did you come in with that girl? Luisa, is it?’
He lowers his phone, flicks his hair back and leans in, exactly as he did in the flat.
‘Did you come in with that girl? Only we need her date of birth. Her date of birth? When she was born?’
‘I’m sorry. That is all I have.’
‘So you can’t even tell me her last name?’
‘No. I’m sorry.’
The receptionist lowers her paperwork.
‘Well, what on earth’s the point of you coming in with her then if you can’t even tell me the basics? I don’t know why you bothered.’
The phone rings in his hand. The receptionist gives an irritated little shake of her papers and turns back inside. He pauses, flicks his hair again, uncertainly, then raises his phone to speak.
I go inside to speak to the receptionist.
‘You shouldn’t be so hard on him, you know. He’s only trying to help. He can relay information to us if his friends find anything out, and he’ll be there to translate if she comes round. All that for someone he’s never met before.’
‘Hm,’ says the receptionist. ‘Well. Hm.’