It’s been a cold and busy couple of hours. Fourth ambulance on scene at an RTC on an exposed stretch of country road out of town. A proper working job, as they say, a difficult rescue alongside police and fire brigade. The kind of job where you have to think big and small at the same time: the best place for the ambulance, the best place for the equipment dump, who gets to stand in the back once the roof is off, who’s best placed to hold the patient’s head whilst the rest of the team slide the patient a little further up the spinal board, everything as calmly co-ordinated as possible, commands and requests, shouts and gestures, repeated reviews, checks, reassurances, the whole thing as smooth as possible amongst the general chaos of diesel engines, flashing blues and bright halogen lights, lines and hoses and hydraulic jacks, canvas and blocks and spilled fuel and yellow jackets, whilst the whole time a freezing wind races through it all, from the dark fields behind us to the darker hills beyond. Extemporary crews are made, kit borrowed, open, dismantled, spread about, everything to be collected again and sorted out back at the hospital when the job is done.
Our patient handed over and booked in, the ambulance restored, I go to the nurse’s rec room to make a tray of tea and coffee for everyone. I figure they can help themselves if I put the tray on the counter outside reception. I’ve taken my two jackets off and hung them in the ambulance; it’s left me feeling light and easy, a margin of esprit de corps around me you could probably see as a pleasant shimmer if I stood against something dark.
It’s cosy in the rec room – so cosy I’m tempted to curl up on one of those soft blue chairs and fall asleep. I say hello to the two nurses having their lunch at the table and then set about making the drinks. I find a tray and put out thirteen polystyrene cups, six for tea, six for coffee, one for sugar. Once everything’s made up I get ready to go, but then hesitate. I’ve got two spoons on the tray, one that I’d already used for dunking the tea bags and one extra. But it strikes me there’s always a shortage of spoons in here. Maybe I only need one. I put the spare one back on the counter and pick up the tray again.
‘I can’t believe you’re actually going to do that,’ says Fiona, one of the nurses.
‘I’ve been watching you all this time thinking: surely he’s not going to do it as well.’
‘What d’you mean?’
She gets up, comes across to the counter, and picks up the spoon.
‘What’s this?’ she says.
‘I suppose you think the kitchen fairy’s going to take care of that for you.’
‘Oh – no.’
‘I spend half my life following people around tidying up and I don’t see why I should.’
‘Why can’t you just clean up after yourself? If you use it, wash it up, put it away. It’s not difficult. I don’t see why I should have to be the one to tidy up everyone else’s mess.’
‘No. Sorry, Fiona. I promise I’ll try harder next time.’
She waves the spoon at me. For a minute I think she’s going to rap me on the nose.
‘See that you do!’ she says.