#1: Stella, 93
Lying in bed, the covers pulled up to her chin. Her eyes half-closed, as if the bright rectangle of sunlight angling in through the window was a little too much.
‘Is she ...?’
‘Yes, I’m afraid your mother is dead. Sometime in the night, I’d say.’
‘I left her alone when I came in this morning. I thought she was asleep. I was making her breakfast. Then it just felt – wrong.’
Stella’s son stands uncertainly the other side of the bed. It hardly takes an effort to imagine his mother closing her mouth and turning her head to see what on earth all the fuss was about.
‘I came early this morning because I was worried. I’ve spent the last couple of days trying to coax her out of bed. It wasn’t like her, to just lay herself away like that.’
‘We’ve got some paperwork to do.’
‘Come into the lounge, then. Would you like some tea?’
‘That’d be great, thanks.’
We follow him out of the room.
‘What do I now?’ he says, filling the kettle.
‘Well – because it wasn’t what they call an expected death, and Stella’s GP hasn’t seen her in the last couple of weeks, we contact the police and they attend. Don’t worry about them coming – it’s just a formality. And then they’ll guide you through the next bit, which is the Coroner’s Office people coming to collect your mother, and a decision being made about a post mortem and so on. But they’re the experts. They’ve got all the information.’
He finds three mugs and puts them out in a line, reaches up for the tea caddy. He opens it, then tosses a bag into each cup before pausing at the last one.
‘Do you think she suffered?’ he says.
‘I don’t think so. It looks to me like she died peacefully in her sleep.’
‘That’s something then,’ he says. He drops the last bag into the mug, picks up the kettle and pours out the water. ‘Stella was ninety-three you know. Good as gold up till the last few weeks. But that fall she had shook her up a bit.’
‘Oh? When was that?’
‘Last month. She goes down the casino every Wednesday to play roulette. Except last week she caught her foot and fell out the taxi.’
#2: Peter, 24
There are two police cars outside the house. We park where we can and hurry into the house. A middle-aged woman is standing in the hallway.
‘He’s up in his room,’ she says, tonelessly, moving to one side. ‘Excuse the mess.’
I want to say something more but there isn’t time. We hurry up the narrow stairway. Muted voices ahead of us. The landing cluttered, difficult to negotiate. A police officer opens a door and comes out, gesturing for us to go on past him.
‘I hate this shit,’ he says.
The room is a chaos of stuff – DVDs, games and devices, fast food cartons, discarded clothes, Coke bottles, scarcely room to move without treading on something; what space there is on the carpet is covered with a scattering of empty blister packets.
Peter is over in the corner under the attic window, curled up on his side. The flowery quilt that was over him has been pulled aside; even from here we can see the unmistakable tide line of pooling blood. One of the officers draws our attention to a sheet of paper blu-tacked to the wall above Peter’s head. A neatly typed letter. To whoever finds me it reads. I couldn’t go on ... just too much ... tired trying ... nothing left. And then along with the signature, an afterthought written in the same blue pen: Sorry mum.
‘Are you okay after that one?’ says Control when we radio clear.
‘Yep. We’re fine.’
‘Back to base for a cuppa,’ she says. ‘I think you’ve earned it.’
#3: Viktor, 70
Viktor says he wants to go to the toilet before we leave for hospital. He’s a little unsteady, but manages to take himself into the bathroom.
‘I think we’d better have the carry chair,’ Rae says.
I take all our bags back down in the lift, out to the ambulance, stow them away, make the trolley ready, put the ramp down. Whilst I’m pulling the carry chair out of its cupboard, Viktor’s middle-aged daughter Rachel suddenly appears next to me.
‘Your colleague says can you give her a hand.’
For a second I wonder if I should take all the bags back up again. But to be quick I decide just to go with the chair.
As we ride up in the lift together, Rachel tells me about her father’s fifty-odd years of binge drinking, his years of self-imposed isolation, how she and her husband finally got through to him, persuaded him to leave his dreadful place and move nearer to them, so they can look after him and keep him on the straight and narrow.
‘You should’ve seen it,’ she says. ‘We had to have it de-verminated.’
When we come into the flat the bathroom door is open and Rae is struggling to support Viktor on the toilet.
‘He’s arrested,’ she says.
I put the chair down and hurry in. Together we get him on the floor, start compressions, take stock.
‘I’ll wait in the sitting room,’ says Rachel, and goes through.
I carry on compressions whilst Rae goes back down to the vehicle to get the bags and call for assistance. Luckily, another paramedic is passing on his way back to base; the two of them come back into the flat together.
We work on Viktor for an hour.
Half-way through, Rachel’s husband Mark arrives. An ex-policeman, he’s been to his share of these things.
‘If there’s anything you want doing, any fetching or carrying, I’m your man,’ he says. ‘How’s it looking?’
But he spares us having to come up with the words; he nods gravely, then goes to be with Rachel whilst we carry on.
Nothing works. We end up in one last review of the situation, kneeling amongst all the detritus of the resus, the ripped adrenaline cartons, drained bags of fluid, the wrappers and packaging, the changes of gloves, the bloody towels and roughly-cut clothing – and in the middle of it all, Viktor, flat and lifeless as the line on the screen.
We go through to tell Rachel her father has died. We give them some space whilst we go back to tidy up the hallway and bathroom. I retrieve Viktor’s false teeth from the corner where they somehow ended up, rinse them clean under the tap and place them on the side of the sink. I have one last wipe around the area, then head back down to the truck to fetch the scoop stretcher. Together we use it to carry Viktor into the bedroom, temporarily tying his arms with a bandage to stop them flopping over the side.
Mark comes into the bedroom to help us settle Viktor in, moving cushions and covers, arranging furniture.
‘Thanks for all you’ve done,’ he says, and then: ‘I’ve made some tea.’
We follow him back into the lounge to drink it.