I have that buzzing, vaguely hectic feel, and my feet are further away from head than they have any right to be.
I stick the thermometer in my ear.
I check the time.
Half way through the shift.
It’s probably just a case of acute wishful thinking.
I’ll tough it out.
We’re called to a collapse in an old people’s day centre. Rae drives; I sit low down behind my shades, feeling the world rush through me.
‘Are you all right?’ she says.
‘I think I’m coming down with something.’
‘You’ve only just got back from holiday.’
‘I came back too quick.’
‘That’s it, then. You’ve got the holiday bends.’
We pull up outside the church hall. There’s a member of staff in a mauve pinny, waiting.
‘Lola had a funny turn during lunch. She’s just through here.’
She leads us through reception into a bright, vaulted space reverberating with the sound of cutlery on plates and a murmurous hum of conversation that seems to close around us as we walk over to Lola’s table.
Another member of staff is standing behind her chair with both hands on Lola’s shoulders.
‘You couldn’t take over?’ she says. ‘Only I’m stopping her from sliding under.’
I step in, whilst Rae squats down and checks Lola over.
Although she is a sickly grey colour, she’s breathing and just about conscious.
‘We need to lie her down,’ she says. ‘But it’ll be easier if I whizz the trolley in quick and we can scoot her straight over from the chair. Are you okay here for the moment?’
I nod. She hurries out.
Whilst I hang on to Lola, I look around the table. There are five other old ladies, all still busily tucking in to the food on their plates – buttered bread, salad, hard-boiled egg and strips of smoked salmon.
‘Afternoon,’ I say. ‘Mm. You’re making me hungry.’
One of them looks up, shreds of salmon dangling over her chin. It puts me in mind of a Komodo dragon, disturbed at the kill. She takes down the last of the salmon in three snickering snaps of her jaw, then turns her head slightly left and right as if she were smelling rather than seeing me.
‘Get yourself a plate,’ she says eventually. Then leans back in to the egg.
The old lady immediately next to Lola nudges me with her fork arm.
‘She’s never normally all that chatty,’ she says, with a nod of her head that almost puts her wig over her eyes. ‘Hardly says a word. So I can’t say we noticed any difference.’
‘So she’s normally pretty quiet?’ I say. ‘Do you know anything else about Lola? Her past medical history?’
‘Her what?’ says the old lady. ‘We have lunch three times a week. That’s it. What do you think? I’m her doctor?’
‘No. Quite right.’
They carry on eating. Lola groans in my arms and I look back to the door.
‘Okay, Lola. Trolley’s on its way.’
One of the carers comes over.
‘Can I get you anything?’ she says. 'Tea?'
‘Do you have any details about Lola? Any personal information sheets we could take?’
‘Oh, right. I’ll see.’
She goes back into the kitchen.
Rae struggles back in with the trolley.
I’m amazed there’s not more of a reaction. But despite the loud electric buzz of our trolley, the two figures in green hauling the unconscious old lady out of her chair, the carers collecting bags and belongings, the squawk of our radios and our terse comments to each other, my general impression is that everyone is too busy eating to care. That, or it happens so often they’re used to it.
Either way, we wheel Lola out through the double doors.
There is a sudden loud crash from the hall; I glance back, and I’m not sure, but I think what I see is two Komodo dragons either end of a strip of Lola’s salmon, tugging and fighting and scattering plates.