The night before this particular shift I cut the end of my right index finger on a piece of broken glass. In the morning when I look for a fresh plaster, the only waterproof ones left have got Spongebob Squarepants on them. I wrap one round my finger and admire it: Spongebob, whistling.
The shift rolls out as busy as any I’ve had all year.
A man with an obstructed bowel, panting down in his crypt-styled kitchen, looking more tortured than any of the plaster saints and gold-leaf icons that line the walls.
An elderly woman with a fracture dislocation of her ankle, broken when she was walking her little Jack Russell over the park.
‘What’s his name?’
‘Remy. I took him in when my brother died.’
‘Remy’s a nice name.’
‘My brother liked a drink.’
A sixty-year-old man who has fallen over in the wet room, cracking his head on the tiled floor. A slick halo of blood around his head; a large black Labrador standing guard over him.
A twenty-year-old man, white-faced, sweating, heaving, who took sixty-four paracetamol sometime last night, and who only just mentioned it to his mother when she rang this afternoon.
A sixty-year-old woman who was getting on to the bus when the doors suddenly slammed in her face and pushed her backwards onto the pavement. She has two items of luggage – a handbag, and a three foot length of dowelling.
‘What’s the rod for?’
‘Are you building him something?’
‘Wow. How big is he?’
‘Well obviously I’m going to cut it.’
A fifty-five-year old woman with back pain.
‘I’m a dental nurse,’ she says. Then screams as we go over a bump.
I rest my hand on her arm and encourage her to use the gas and air.
‘I hope you floss,’ she says, when she’s recovered her poise. The gas and air lowers her voice and makes her sound gruff.
‘That’s all I hear when I go to the dentist,’ I say to her. ‘Have you flossed? But honestly – who flosses?’
‘I do. You should. Otherwise your gums will get diseased and your teeth will fall out. Show me your teeth.’
I bare them.
‘Hm. Not too bad. But they’d be better if you flossed.’
She takes another few tokes of the Entonox, just as we hit a bump.
‘And if your dentist gives you pain,’ she grimaces, ‘change your dentist.’
Then half a dozen more, merging into each other - an elderly man off his legs, shaking on the edge of his bed; a ninety-year-old-woman with chest pain, a ninety-five-year-old woman with a TIA – an exhausting, disorienting trawl through a twelve-hour day.
But after each job, when I peel off the blue gloves, it’s reassuring to see Spongebob there, still bright and yellow, still whistling happily on my finger.
I like it.