We’re waved over to the corner of one of the busiest intersections in town. A woman puts her phone away as we pull alongside and nods just behind her to the left. It’s only then that I see the patient, a man in a white shirt, lying behind the low wall of a private car park.
‘I think he’s probably just drunk, but I wanted to be sure,’ she says.
I hop over the wall and take a look. A heavy-set man in his fifties lying almost prone, his face pressed into his left arm, which stretches out along the bottom edge of the wall, terminating in a sherry bottle. ‘Hello!’ I say, reaching over and squeezing him on the shoulder. ‘It’s the ambulance. How are you doing?’
He shrugs irritably, like he’s trying to shake off a worrisome bird.
‘It’s the ambulance. Have you hurt yourself?’
He mumbles something.
‘Listen. I don’t want to bother you, but people see you lying here like this and they think you’ve had a heart attack or something. Can you sit up for me and let me see that you’re all right?’
He groans and swears, but eventually makes an effort to sit up after carefully putting the bottle onto level ground.
‘There! That’s better. Now – are you ill in any way? Do you need our help?’
‘No. I’m grand. I’m just having a sleep, s’all.’
‘Why don’t you nip over the road into the church gardens, then? It’s a lovely day. You could stretch out on the grass nice and comfy and no-one would bother you. If you lie down here they’ll just call the ambulance again.’
‘I’m fine. Leave me alone.’
‘Come on. I need you to get up and walk somewhere a bit more sensible. Yeah? Can you do that?’
‘Give me a minute.’
‘Okay. Fine. But make sure you make a move though. You can’t stay here.’
I take his name, thank the woman who called us, then go back to the ambulance.
Five minutes later, I’m writing out the form when a young woman wheeling a bike comes up to the window.
‘Did you know there’s a man collapsed by that wall?’ she says.
‘Yeah. He’s okay, just a bit drunk. But I’ll go back and have another look.’
She smiles and carries on.
He’s slumped back in the same position.
I pinch his shoulder again.
‘Hey! Gary! Sit up for me.’
‘You really can’t sleep here, mate. We’re going to get called back.’
‘Leave me alone.’
‘Come on. Sit yourself up and take a walk over the road to the park. Seriously, Gary. You can’t just lie down anywhere. People think you’re dead.’
He pushes himself back up into a sitting position, his hair sticking out all-angles, his face puffy and red and mottled from where the gravel of the car park pushed into his cheek.
He reaches out for the sherry bottle, cradles it in his lap, and stares out at all the people hurrying along the pavement the other side of the wall.‘Give me a minute,’ he says. ‘I just need a minute.’