There was a plague of drunks that night. Everyone did their share. We had three – one of them, a guy of twenty or so, was sprawled face down on the pavement outside a fast food place, so covered in vomit it looked like he himself must have been eaten by a larger species of clubber and vomited whole a while later. There’s an art to moving patients like this. You swaddle them in blankets before you even think of getting them up, then after a few essential obs, postural adjustments, tactical placing of bowls and inco pads, you transport them to hospital and roll them onto a trolley in A&E. And there they lie, a collection of noxious pupae, waiting for the alcoholic tide in their blood to recede so they can be re-born. You’ll see them later in the morning, tentatively unfolding the stinking wings that will carry them home.
Our third drunk doesn’t even have the decency to be soiled.
A young guy in pipe jeans, denim shirt and punky, sugar paste hair as sad and folded as he is now.
Two friends stand over him.
‘What’s happened?’ I ask them.
‘Dave drank too much and says he can’t go on.’
‘I can’t,’ says Dave. ‘I’ve puked my guts up and it really hurts.’
‘Was it just alcohol tonight, Dave?’
‘Just’ says the other friend. ‘Look – how long’s this going to take?’
I ignore her.
‘Have you had any recreational drugs tonight, Dave?’
His friends laugh; I look up and repeat the worn old line that we’re not the police, we don’t care if you do or don’t take drugs, but as health care professionals we need to know so we can treat you appropriately.
‘I don’t do drugs,’ says Dave, spitting on the pavement, and the groaning some more.
‘What’s your medical history? Any problems – heart, breathing, that kind of thing?’
He shakes his head.
‘On any meds?’
‘Allergic to any?’
‘What are you going to do with him?’ says the girl, checking the time on her phone. ‘We’re sorry to have called you but we didn’t know what else to do. The taxi said no.’
‘Take me home,’ says Dave. ‘Please take me home.’
Then groans as another bout of nausea rolls through him.
‘The only thing we can offer is a trip up the hospital. You can sober up there and get a cab home later.’
‘Why can’t you take me?’ he says, looking up. ‘Please? I just want to go home.’
‘Just run him home’ says the girl. ‘It won’t take long.’
I shake my head.
‘It’s not going to happen.’
‘How do you think that’ll play? When people hear the ambulance is giving free rides home when the taxis refuse?’
‘I know, but couldn’t you make an exception in this case? We promise we won’t tell.’
‘No,’ I tell them. ‘Absolutely not.’
Dave retches, then spits.
‘But he’s only had a bit too much to drink. He doesn’t need the hospital,’ says the girl.
‘I agree with you. And the hospital certainly doesn’t need him. Look. I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll give you a blanket. You can wear that round your shoulders to keep warm, and here you are –have a vomit bowl, too, just in case. I think if you make a big effort and stand up straight, you’ll look well enough to go in a taxi. What do you think?’
‘Just take me home,’ he says. ‘I want to go home.’
‘No – Forget it. It’s just not going to happen, Dave. You’ve got to be realistic.’‘Open your eyes, Dorothy,’ says Rae, pulling off her gloves. ‘You’re back in Kansas now.’