‘Have you met Stephen before?’
‘Maybe I’ll recognise him when I see him.’
‘He’s a piece of work.’
Certainly the notes would point that way. His address is tagged for threatening and abusive behaviour. Shouts and swears when questioned about his medical history. Multiple attendances.
‘Glad you’re in the back.’
In many ways it’s a good one to finish. The right side of town, the right degree of difficulty. In this never-ending game of Trying to Get Off On Time, this is a move I can see working to our advantage, abuse or otherwise. I can soak most things up when I have a higher purpose.
I’ve certainly been to this block before, an austere slab of architecture that would’ve made Stalin twitch. The corridors on each floor are so long there is a lift either end. As you walk along the corridor, the lights flicker on for that section, gradually illuminating what’s ahead – which begins to feel like a reflection of what’s been. The only thing to differentiate each door is the offensiveness of the welcome mat outside and the degree of distress to the woodwork. Stephen’s stands out in that respect. A crazed pattern of dents and crudely mended holes – an eloquent history of forced entry – underlined by a letterbox sealed with gaffer tape.
The door stands open.
Stephen is in the little bathroom immediately to the right as we go in, scowling dangerously. As soon as I see him I remember that I have been here before. I’ve certainly seen him around A&E. A history of COPD, non-compliant both in meds and lifestyle, mental health issues. The notes had said thirty attendances in the past month, which sounds excessive even for Stephen, but none of this influences our game plan. Mindful of his temper and how any mishandling could de-rail the smooth end to our shift, we have armoured ourselves against any outrage just as effectively as the shiny metal panels in the lift behind us proof it against graffiti. Expedience makes us invulnerable.
‘Where..the...fuck...have...you...been?’ he says.
‘Hello Stephen. We’ve brought our chair for you. Do you have your keys, phone, a coat to wear? There we go! Let me get that for you. Would you like the lights on or off? Okay – you may keep your arms over the straps as a special favour, but only if you promise not to grab. Can you do that for me? Great! Here we go then!’
Stephen sits on the edge of the ambulance seat, hands planted on his knees, the nebuliser hissing and vapour gently rising from the vents in the mask. He looks like a character from a Disney film, a dark and magical tale about an angry man who gets turned into a boiler. And if he’s the boiler, I must be the princess, fa-la-laaing on the opposite seat, meeting his scowls with a laugh and a series of cute little ticks on my form: abusive, uncooperative, aggressive. There now! Gracefully adjusting levels, finding wonder and enchantment and love in just about everything.
‘Have you seen your doctor lately?’ I ask him, frowning at first, and then sighing with disappointment when he tells me to shut the fuck up.
At least that’s what I think he says. The neb is so noisy it hides much of it.
‘Oh that’s a shame!’ I say, feeling another song. Well – Fiddle-de-Dee!
The road is magically clear of traffic. We get to the hospital a little more quickly than I’d anticipated, and when we finally roll up the ramp to A&E, there are half a dozen trucks already parked there.
‘Bit of a queue,’ says Rae, ominously, after calling out the arrival time.
A little shiver, but then – no matter!
‘Let’s get a blanket for your shoulders,’ I say to Stephen. I snap my fingers, and a flock of bluebirds fly in through the back door with a lemon coloured cell blanket. They drape it around him, bickering in a comical fashion at first, losing a feather or two, but getting it right in the end, and hugging each other in a mid-air heart-shape.‘Cunts,’ says Stephen.