Gill has drunk too much Prosecco. There was a stack of it at the family get-together, and whether it was nerves at the big gathering, or a tendency to drink too much when she goes out, the fact is she sank the best part of two bottles and suddenly fell ill.
‘She was okay – ish – when we left the restaurant. And the fresh air seemed to help. But we only got as far as this bench and suddenly she said she couldn’t go on anymore and just crashed out.’
Gill’s a pitiful sight, slumped forwards with her arms on her knees, her long hair falling in front of her face, the whole woman and the surrounding pavement as liberally splattered as if a stormy stomach cloud had stopped just above her head and unleashed a monsoon of vomit.
‘The taxis didn’t want to know, as you can appreciate,’ says Ed.
‘I’m surprised they even stopped.’
‘I just don’t want her choking to death,’ he says.
‘Well – she’s not completely spark out, so that’s good. You do have to bear it in mind when you put her down, though.’
‘What do we do, then?’
‘Take her to hospital, I suppose..’
‘I don’t want to waste your time.’
‘It’s okay. So long as she’s safe, that’s the main thing.’
He stands back whilst we set to work, wrapping Gill in a couple of blankets, getting the stretcher up close, angling everything so that what little support she has in her legs is enough to help us stand her up, turn her round and lie her down on the stretcher. It’s difficult not to get any vomit on us – I’m caught out by a strand of hair, and land a generous smear on my shirt front. On the ambulance I get the worst of it off with a cleansing wipe, making a mental note to change my shirt at the earliest opportunity.
Ed rides with us to the hospital.
‘Is it far?’ he says ‘We’re not from round here. We came up for the party.’
Gill moans, heaves, spits.
‘Please don’t spit,’ I tell her, repositioning the bowl.
‘Come on, Gill. Don’t be disgusting,’ says Ed. She makes no sign she recognises him.
I try to gauge Ed’s mood through all this. He seems friendly enough, but there’s something else, some inner tension that I guess is part embarrassment and part unease at seeing his sister like this. I try to show him I don’t really mind, that’s it’s a normal part of our job, but he remains slightly aloof, like he’s holding on to the most aerodynamic emotional shape possible to make it through the night.
‘We’re here!’ I say, unwrapping the blood pressure cuff and making things ready as Rae backs the truck in.
‘If you’d like to get off first’ I say to Ed. He touches Gill on the one clean patch of flesh she has on her shoulder, then makes his way to the back.
Erica the triage nurse listens sympathetically whilst she gets the story.
‘It’s bad enough getting pissed in front of your mum and dad – but actually I think it’s worse when you do it in front of your brother,’ she says, winking at Ed. ‘I don’t know why. Actually, strike that. I do know why. They never let you forget. Ever. It’ll be something else they have over you. Like my brother...’ she laughs. ‘God love him. But that time I disgraced myself big time, he was more than happy to add it to his collection.’
‘Yeah, well. This is serious,’ says Ed. He looks uncomfortable, restlessly changing position on his plastic chair whilst we tend to his sister. She groans, kicks the blankets and splays her legs over the side of the trolley. I cover her up again.
‘Has she had any drugs tonight that you know of?’
‘No. We don’t do drugs. Though, yes... I know ... alcohol is a drug.’
‘I don’t care either way,’ says Erica. ‘It’s just so we don’t have to worry about that and the alcohol.’
‘So what was she drinking?’ asks Erica, taking Gill’s temperature.
‘Mostly Prosecco,’ he says.
‘Prosecco? Ooh, good girl. Fantastic! I love Prosecco,’ says Erica. ‘Mind you, who doesn’t?’
‘Goes down very easily,’ I say, wiping Gill’s mouth and swapping the full bowl for a clean one. ‘Yep. Maybe with a drop of cassis at Christmas. Lovely.’
‘In fact, d’you know what? I think I prefer it to champagne.’
‘Do you? Yeah. Well. Champagne’s pretty amazing. It feels more substantial.’
‘More expensive, don’t you mean?’
‘By a stretch.’
‘Guys, guys...’ says Ed, shaking his head. ‘Come on. I really don’t think this is appropriate.’
‘Oh? How d’you mean?’ says Erica, cooling imperceptibly.
‘Well – you know. Going on about Prosecco like this. When it’s the Prosecco made her sick.’‘I think you’ll find it wasn’t the Prosecco made her sick,’ says Erica, brightly again, clicking off the screen. ‘It was not having the common sense to know when she’s had enough. But there. That’s a whole other conversation! Cubicle three!’