It’s Callum, a paramedic I haven’t seen in a while, a nice surprise.
‘Hey Callum! How are things, man?’
‘Yeah, good. Good.’
We shake hands over the boy on the floor, who vomits copiously, adding to a mess of the same that stinks up his hair, face, hands, clothes.
‘Euw! So - how’s it working out at the new station?’
‘Not bad. Not bad, thanks. I miss it here though.’
The patient’s friends laugh around us; I smile and say hi and hello to them all, conscious of the fact that I’m probably over-playing the sang-froid, Saturday night game-show schtick.
‘I’m guessing you do this a lot, then?’ says one girl, shivering, and clutching her jacket collar more tightly around her as the rain drifts down more insistently.
‘A fair bit. So – what’s the story with this one?’
‘Lucas, nineteen. He’s been drinking a lot tonight, starts to feel wobbly, his friends bring him outside to freshen up in the air. Starts to collapse, they put him in the recovery position where you see him today. No drugs, is that right?’
His friends shake their heads and say the usual things.
‘Only we don’t care,’ says Callum. ‘We’re not the police. We just need to know the facts so they can treat him at the hospital.’
‘Rousable. No PMH to speak of.’
I lean in and prod Lucas behind the ear.
He bats at my hand with his own horror-version.
‘It’s a shame, all right.’
The music from inside turns up a notch.
A guy steps forward, introduces himself as Alex, an old school friend of Lucas.
‘I’m in my first year at uni here and Lucas came up to visit. He’s miles from home.’
‘So it’s looking like a trip up the hospital to sober up. Can you come with us, Alex?’
‘Yes – of course.’
‘We’ll take care of him.’
Callum and Rae fetch the trolley. Fortunately Lucas is slim; between us we have enough hands to lift him off the floor without getting any vomit on us. We set him on his side and load him onto the vehicle. With the noise of the lift going up, Lucas draped over the trolley, our happy banter, I’m conscious we look and sound more like waste disposal contractors than paramedics – but that feels about right. I lay a contingent pattern of inco pads on the floor around the head-end of the trolley, and then get Alex to sit on a chair with a vomit bowl ready.
‘No doubt see you later, Callum.’
We head in.
‘So. Are you old school friends then?’
‘Yes. But I came up to uni and Lucas took a gap year.’
We both look at him, groaning on the trolley.
‘What are you studying?’ I ask Alex.
‘Physics,’ he says.
‘Oh yeah? My brother studied physics.’
‘Wow!’ says Alex. ‘It’s a great subject.’
He fiddles with the vomit bowl as he talks, turning it round and round.
‘I don’t know what I want to do with it yet, but I’ve got plenty of time. There are so many fascinating developments, so many areas you can go into.’
‘It is an amazing field. My brother – he always wanted to be an astronaut, but he had terrible problems with his eyes so it was never really on the cards.’
Alex frowns. ‘That’s so frustrating,’ he says, ‘when a physical disability gets in the way like that. But what can you do? You just have to accept that that particular avenue is closed off to you, and move on.’
‘Exactly – which is what he did. He worked in the defence industry for years, then ended up working for the European Space Agency, on a satellite programme.’
‘That’s incredible. I’d love to do something like that.’
I nod, like it was me who did all that and not my brother.
‘What does he do, exactly?’
‘Oh. Well. He’s explained it plenty of times, but I never really understood. Software engineer, something like that.’
Lucas groans some more and Alex readies himself with the vomit bowl. Nothing comes out, the moment passes, he relaxes back again.
‘I mean, take the Higgs-Boson,’ he says, holding up the bowl like he was going to scoop one out of the air. ‘Think of all the applications coming out of that.’
I look at the bowl.
‘I must admit I have no idea how my mobile phones work, let alone the God Particle. But yeah – an incredible time in physics.’
The ambulance rocks from side to side. Lucas opens his eyes a fraction, and flops an arm off the trolley.
‘What was he drinking?’
‘Whisky of some sort. I didn’t see exactly. I’m guessing approximately twenty one units.’
‘Okay.’ I write that down.
‘And definitely no recreational drugs?’
Alex shakes his head.
‘Lucas owes you,’ I say to him. ‘Taking care of him like this.’
Alex smiles and shrugs.
‘Seriously. It’s a really good thing you’re doing for your friend, tonight. I hope he appreciates it.’
‘How long are we going to be up there?’
‘A while. Four hours, probably more.’
Alex grimaces, but then settles back.
‘Oh well,’ he says. ‘What’s time?’