To begin with, side entrance to railway station isn’t a helpful direction. Front or back? Left as you look at it or right as you come out? Control says the patient isn’t answering his phone to tell us more.
I step out of the ambulance and look around.
The evening commute is in full flood, people hurrying in and out, queues at the coffee concessions, workmen banging and shouting overhead, taxi drivers out of their cabs in twos and threes, stretching, smoking, looking over the chaos with a pouchy kind of stoicism.
A guard in a yellow jacket hurries over.
‘We haven’t been told nothing,’ he says, unclipping his radio. ‘Just give us a minute and I’ll find out for you.’
I look back at the cab. Rae has draped herself over the wheel, one hand under her chin. It’s been a long day and we’re both tired. The fact that this drugs overdose / chest pain called 999 himself is reassuring, for some reason, and anyway, these things have a way of playing out in their own particular time.
The security guard catches my attention and then waves with his radio in the direction of the left-hand side of the station, by the pedestrian crossing.
I jump back in the cab. Rae swings the ambulance round and we head over.
If we’d approached from that side, Lee would’ve been impossible to miss. A blond, bare-chested man in his twenties, he’s sitting on the pavement, eyes closed, a smashed mobile phone in one hand by his side, leaning back against the traffic lights with his legs stretched out. No-one’s kneeling by his side or standing over him. Whether this is symptomatic of the blinkered focus of the commuter traffic, or whether it’s because Lee looks so rough, it’s hard to say. We’re here now, though. The rush continues around us, with barely a horrified glance.
Once I’ve established he’s conscious, hasn’t fallen and hurt himself, and can feasibly stand up with some help, we get him onto the ambulance. It feels good to shut the door behind us.
‘Sanctuary,’ I say, as Lee throws himself down onto the trolley. ‘Good. Now. What’s been going on today?’, wiring him up as we talk.
‘I took a few snowballs this afternoon.’
‘Snowballs? What are they?’
He squints at me. After a pause just long enough to evaluate his situation, who I am, what I know or don’t know, what kind of risk I might be, he says: ‘A mix of heroin and crack.’
‘And what – do you inject that or smoke it?’
‘Okay. And then what happened?’
He winces and rubs the centre of his chest.
‘I felt terrible, like my heart was gonna bust out of my chest.’
‘Have you felt like that before?’
‘Never. I’ve done this shit loads of times and it’s never been that bad.’
‘Well your ECG looks pretty normal. A bit fast, but nothing major. Everything else is checking out. Have you still got that feeling in your chest?’
‘It’s difficult, isn’t it, Lee? I mean – who knows what was in that stuff. You might have taken it before, but it could’ve been a rogue batch. He might be the most reliable dealer in the world but he’s not always going to know if it’s been cut with something weird.’
‘I think the safest thing is to come to hospital with us so they can run some more tests and keep an eye on you.’
Lee sits up.
‘Can I have a sip of water?’ he says.
Rae gives him a carton.
He empties it with one tip of the head, then hands me the carton and starts pulling off the ECG dots, grimacing and yelping as the hairs on his chest and arms come off with them. When he’s done he hands me the discs, then swings his legs over the side of the trolley.
‘Thanks, yeah?’ he says.
‘Will there be anyone to keep an eye on you for the next few hours.’
He grunts and nods vaguely over his right shoulder.
‘Up the road,’ he says.
‘Okay. Sign here, then. It’s just to say that you’ve decided not to go to hospital, against our advice.’
He signs, Rae hands him his top and he pulls it on.
‘And just remember,’ she says, in a put-on voice. ‘Snowballs aren’t cool.’
Snowballs. You know. Made of snow. But .... erm ... just take it easy,’ she says.
I hand him his smashed phone.
‘It was like that already,’ I tell him.‘Yeah,’ he says. ‘I know.’