Joyce is stretched out flat on one of the benches outside the cafe. Reece, the paramedic first on scene supports her breathing with a BVM; two waiters stand either side of Joyce’s husband, Ken, holding him up; a bystander helps to move tables ready for the trolley, and others shuffle around offering help with fetching and carrying.
‘Eighty-five year old. Sudden collapse whilst seated, making respiratory effort but not all that, pulse tachy, BP in her boots.’
We work quickly, getting the trolley out, grabbing a pat slide, using that to keep Joyce flat whilst we scoot her across, then legs raised, blanket on, and quickly away onto the truck. Once there, shears through clothes, pads, dots, obs, fluids – the whole tangled fuss of the peri-arrest situation.
As soon as we’re done I leave Rae and Reece in the back to go outside and see to Ken.
‘Can I be with my wife?’ he says. ‘We’ve been together sixty years and I can’t leave her now.’
I put that to the others. They shake their heads and I know what they mean. If Joyce arrests en route, CPR is brutal to watch.
Back with Ken, I put my hand on his shoulder and explain the situation.
‘Joyce is really unwell, and you’ll find it extremely upsetting if the paramedics have to do CPR. Why don’t you ride up front with me? I promise we’ll let you be with Joyce as soon as we can.’
‘All right then.’
I help him with his bags, his hat, his cane, and I give him a little boost up into the front passenger seat.
Reece has to leave his car on scene as he’s needed in the back. As I reverse the ambulance down the street, I can see its blue lights revolving in the distance, playing around the street.
* * *
Joyce arrests at the hospital just as we’re transferring her in the resus room. A team of nurses, doctors and consultants descend on her as I come back out to find Ken standing in the foyer. I lead him through to the relatives room and sit him down. On the way there, one of my colleagues offers to go and make him some tea.
‘Joyce is in with the doctors now. They just need five minutes to do what they have to do. If you’re okay here, Ken, I’ll go back and tell them you want to be with Joyce no matter what. I’ll make sure they understand, and I’ll be straight back to let you know what’s going on.’
‘I need the loo,’ he says.
‘Come on. I’ll show you where it is.’
I take all his stuff, because the relative’s room isn’t lockable.
He puts his arm through mine and I take him round to the nearest toilet. Whilst I wait outside, a cleaner comes by and laughs; it’s only then I realise I’m leaning on Ken’s stick.
‘I know,’ I say. ‘Busy day.’
Ken comes out and I lead him back to the relatives’ room. Reece is waiting for us there. He offers to take Ken through to resus. He gives me the smallest look as we both go to help him up, and I guess it means Joyce has died.
I say goodbye to Ken as he’s led away, and go outside to remake the trolley and tidy up the back. One of my other colleagues has already taken care of the trolley.
I thank her.
She smiles and shrugs.
‘You had your hands full,’ she says.
* * *
Three-quarters of an hour later we’re pulling up at the far end of the pedestrian street where Reece had left his car. He’d been given the wrong location when he arrived and had to walk most of the street to get to Joyce. Once he was with her, there was no time to go back and switch anything off. So for the past couple of hours, the car has been running on KRS with the blue lights flickering round and round, playing over the netted trees for sale, the tables covered in wrapping paper, ribbon and cards, the piles of meat in the butchers shop, can snow sprayed on taped windows.
It’s dark and late, the crowds are thinning, there are moves to pack everything away.