The van is easy to spot. Stopped at the junction with three guys standing round the driver’s door, one of them on the phone, one of them waving. I can see from here it’s not actually a cardiac arrest, but the young guy certainly looks unwell, slumped forwards over the steering wheel.
‘At least his handbrake’s on,’ says one of the bystanders. ‘He doesn’t look all that clever, though.’
The door is locked, but luckily the window is half-way down so I can reach in and give him a shake.
‘Hello!’ I shout. ‘It’s the ambulance! How’re you doing?’
He throws himself back into the seat, pressing his hands to his sweating face, then reaching out in a panic to grab the steering wheel and turn the ignition, which grinds in protest.
‘Sorry. Sorry,’ he says. He’s flushed and sweating, and his movements uncoordinated.
‘Can you open the door for me?’
‘Yep. Yep. Absolutely.’ He tries turning the engine over again, and goes to take the handbrake off.
I reach through the window, unlock the door, open it, turn the engine off and pull the keys.
‘Are you all right?’ I say to him. ‘What’s going on?’
‘No. Yep. Sorry,’ he says. ‘I’m fine. I’m just a bit tired.’
‘Would you mind coming on board the ambulance so we can have a chat and check you over? You don’t look all that well.’
‘I’m fine. Honestly. Just tired...’
And like a robot that’s been pulled at the plug, his chin suddenly sinks forward onto his chest, and he falls instantly asleep.
I shake him by the shoulder.
It takes a firm pinch to rouse him – and suddenly he’s back, kicking his legs, paddling forwards with his hands and turning his head rapidly from side to side.
‘Hey! Easy! Come on, now – let’s get you onto the ambulance and make sure everything’s okay.’
‘It’s fine. I’m fine. I just need to go home and sleep it off.’
We help him out. He’s bare-foot, soaked in sweat. He follows us onto the ambulance, and no sooner has he sat down than he falls asleep again.
We take advantage of his quiescent state to run a set of obs and an ECG, although you could see the effects of the drugs he’s taken from across the road.
‘What have you taken today?’ I ask him when he picks up again.
‘Nothing. I haven’t had nothing.’
‘You can tell us. We don’t care. Except we need to know for your treatment. You’ve obviously taken something.’
‘I haven’t. I’m just tired. Can’t I just go? You’re not gonna stop me, are you?’
Rae’s already called for police. They arrive a moment later – two traffic cops, one straight out of university, the other straight out of prison, by the look of him.
‘Oh dear oh dear,’ says the old cop, the ambulance dipping to the side as he steps on. ‘A bit early for this shit, innit?’
They get him to blow into a breathalyser, which comes out clear.
‘So far so good,’ says Old Cop. ‘Now then...’
He produces a drug kit.
‘Wet your mouth,’ says Old Cop. ‘Get it nice and moist. That’s it. Now. This’ll show us if you’ve had any cannabis or cocaine. And if you’re pregnant.’
He wipes it on the patient’s tongue, then snaps the scraper into place.
‘Cooking time eight minutes,’ he says. ‘Meanwhile, I’ll have a little shufty round your van if I may. Give us the key.’
Whilst he’s gone, the patient falls asleep again; Uni Cop makes some notes.
‘The way he’s behaving looks like a legal high,’ I tell him. ‘This mad on-off thing. I don’t think it’ll show on your kit.’
‘No. Just cannabis and cocaine. I’m not even sure a blood test would do a legal high. Depends what it was.’
‘Will he be prosecuted? I hate to think of him being on the road like this.’
‘Well, it’s difficult. I don’t think it’ll fly with the CPS. He wasn’t actually driving...’
‘He was sitting at the wheel with the engine running at a junction. Surely that’d count?’
‘You’d think. But he was stationary with the handbrake applied. You could argue he was parked. As I’m sure he will.’
‘Can’t you do anything then?’
‘Oh yeah. He clearly has an impairment to drive.’
Old Cop comes back on board.
‘A few documents that might be of interest,’ he says, dropping them on the trolley. ‘Some antibiotics, nothing else. Looks like he might be living in there. How are we doing?’
He picks up the drugs kit.
‘Yep. There we go. Smiley faces for cocaine and cannabis.’
He shows us the stick and the two discreet lines.
The patient wakes up again.
He goes through another round of uncoordinated jerks, bending forwards, throwing himself back, slapping his face. Then settles in the chair and rests there, panting.
‘I’m just tired,’ he says.
‘Well – mate!’ says Old Cop. ‘I get a bit fidgety when I’m knackered, but this is something else. Look. Let’s cut the crap. We know you’ve taken drugs.’
‘Honestly, mate – the time for fucking about is over. We’re all professionals here, so don’t waste your breath.’
‘But I haven’t...’
‘Listen to me. Okay? Let me tell you what’s going to happen. I’m going to park your van up, and you’re going to go to the hospital with these lovely people. Because despite what you might think, my partner here is a deeply caring individual.’
Uni Cop shifts uncomfortably in his seat.
‘I’m also going to contact the DVLA. They will be pulling your licence – okay? – and it’ll be up to you to prove to them over the course of the next year or so that you’re fit to drive. Are we clear?’
Old Cop looks at me. ‘I hope you don’t mind,’ he says. ‘But really – it’s pointless taking him down to custody. The state he’s in, they’re guaranteed to send him to hospital. This way’s quicker and cuts out the middle man.’
The patient has fallen asleep again.
Old Cop looks at him and shakes his head.
Uni Cop closes his notebook and gets ready to go.
‘Are you all right on your own with him?’ says Old Cop to me. ‘He doesn’t look like he’ll be any trouble.’ He picks up the drugs kit and puts his hat on. ‘My advice? Let Sleeping Beauty dream on. Time to go, Starsky. The city needs us.’
The ambulance rises a clear foot when he steps off.