Rae presses clear, and we wait to see what happens next, standby or job.
We’re one of four ambulances parked up outside A&E. Another one is just coming up the ramp. You can tell by the sound of the engine, the spread of the lights. One to our right sparks up and leaves. It’s like we’re drones servicing an enormous hive. Not cells, but cubicles. Not honey, but saline.
The car park in front of us is the usual muddle of taxis, police cars, private cars parked haphazardly, people hobbling in and out of the two entrances, smoking in groups, with drip stands or draped in blankets, squatting by the wall or sitting on the edge of the concrete planter. Any time of day or night it’s the same. Some we recognise, from earlier in the shift, earlier in the year.
The moon is just rising above the resus training block, waning now, but resonantly bright.
The screen remains inactive.
‘It’s amazing how quick the moon moves, when you think about it.’
Rae looks up from her phone.
‘It’s lighter ‘cos it’s missing a chunk,’ she says. ‘I can’t believe I’ve eaten all my lunch all ready.’
The sky is clear. It makes me wish I had an app that tells you what the stars are when you hold the phone up. I look at Orion’s Belt. I know one of the stars is Betelgeuse and one Rigel, but I can’t remember which is which, or what any of that means. A long way away, whatever the name.
A plane tracks across. It’s funny to think of those lights and what they represent. People, doing people stuff. Looking down at the city lights, wondering about them.
Still the screen remains quiet.
The last shift I worked we had a newbie, third-manning. He was so enthusiastic, he spent the entire shift with his head poking out of the little hatch that links the back with the cab, excited by the blue-light drives, and by the details of each job as it came through. I remember being that enthusiastic, terrified almost. The seriousness of each incident seemed overwhelming. You still get a flavour of those early anxieties when you’ve taken some time off, a couple of weeks or so, and it’s the night before your first shift, and you catch yourself thinking dreadful things, those Final Destination scenarios that are going to catch you out and expose you for what you are, an incompetent, a fraud, a chancer. But it only takes the first job to shoe you in to the usual run of things. Letting the jobs unfold in their individual way. Doing what you need to do. Coping, with the help of your colleagues, and the public, and a little luck.
‘Why do they have to use such an angry noise?’ she says, jabbing buttons. ‘Why can’t they have something soothing?’ She puts on a bland, computer voice: ‘Rae? Sorry to bother you, Rae. But someone's in trouble.’
‘Maybe you could have a selection of voices. Darth Vader: Chawwwww. I feel a disturbance in the Force. Chawwww. Category A. Mobilise the fighters.’
Rae scrolls through the details.
‘Twenty-four year old female. Chest pain. Numb left arm. Familial cardiac.’
I put the ambulance in drive and we move off, passing another coming up the ramp.