There are four kids hanging around the entrance to St George’s Rise, slouched over the handlebars of their bikes, hoods up, faces so deep in shadow when they turn to watch us walk to the door with all our bags, I could swear they didn’t have faces at all.
You’d know it was a tough block, even if it didn’t have a posse of dark knights guarding the entrance. The lift feels like a reinforced coffin, with anti-graffiti panels, an armoured security camera in the top corner, and the whole thing lit with an unearthly blue light to make shooting-up difficult.
Up in flat fifty-four, Jake is on the floor with Mick pumping up and down on his chest. We take over, whilst Mick gets his breath back on the sofa.
It turns out Jake smoked heroin half an hour before and eventually went into respiratory arrest. We protect his airway, support his breathing, give him narcan to reverse the effect of the opiates. Ten minutes later he’s sitting in our carry chair, pulling the plastic airway out of his mouth, and looking up at us with eyes as wide as if we were green angels from hell come to collect his soul.
We try to reassure him.
‘So I died?’ he says. ‘You mean like – dead died?’
‘You would’ve if Mick hadn’t stepped in to save you.’
Jake closes his eyes, and needs a shake to bring him back into focus. His hair is spiked with sweat. Now and again he grimaces, coughs and spits a glob of bright red blood into the bowl.
‘What’s this?’ he says, lifting up the bowl.
‘I was just doing what they said,’ says Mick.
When Mick came out of the bathroom and found Jake collapsed he called 999. They told him to put Jake on the floor and start CPR, because it must have sounded like cardiac arrest to them.
‘You saved my life then, yeah?’
‘I dunno. I just did what they said.’
Mick looks at me.
‘Did I do right?’ he says.
‘Absolutely, you did. Jake was definitely heading south.’
‘But all that blood. Have I hurt him?’
‘It’s possible you might have broken a rib and nicked his lung a bit.’
‘But hey – full marks for getting down and dirty.’
‘I can’t believe you saved my life’ says Jake, then coughs again, clutching his chest and grimacing. He dredges up some more blood and spits it into the bowl.
‘Put the mask back on, Jake, and we’ll set off for hospital.’
‘Hospital, yeah? You think I need to go?’
‘All things considered, I do, yeah.’
‘I don’t like hospitals.’
‘No. No-one does.’
‘I can’t come,’ says Mick. ‘I’ve got things to do.’
‘What? Like saving more lives?’ says Jake.
‘Seriously, Jake. You’ve got to stop smoking that shit,’ says Mick. ‘I’m not going through that again.’
Back downstairs and the gang of kids on bikes have migrated to the ambulance. They watch in silence as I stow the bags, put the back down ready for the chair and prep the trolley.
‘Has someone died?’ says one, eventually moving in closer and looking round the cabin.
‘No. Not today.’
‘What did he say?’ says another.
‘He said no.’
‘I called an ambulance once,’ says one of the kids sitting further back.
'Yeah?’ laughs the other. ‘Mate - it’s always your mum.’