Tuesday, October 10, 2006

A quiet pint

Saturday afternoon and these pedestrian backstreets are thick with people walking and eating and busking and window-shopping and drinking and staring blankly at the ambulance with the blue lights nosing impatiently through to get to the pub in the square where, we are told, a man is lying on the floor not breathing. It has taken me so long to get this far that I don't have time to think about parking the vehicle ready for a quick getaway. I put on the handbrake and we jump out, make a grab for the resus bag, and bully our way through a narrow passageway to the pub door. A woman is being helped out, an arm round her shoulder. 'He's gone', she says.
Inside the pub the first thing that strikes me is that one half is busy and the other empty. The landlord has cleared the section off to the left; he has put a menu board sideways across the little step to delineate the two halves. Like a comic book version of a normal pub, Lounge and Bar, this is one with two areas marked out: Living and Dying. Between the round tables, I see a man lying on his back with a white handkerchief over his face.
'Did anyone see what happened?', as I snatch the handkerchief away. (D. asks me: 'Is he breathing?' and then: 'Done a resus before?')
The landlord is standing over us as I check the man's airway and whether he's breathing or not. He isn't.
'What can I tell you? He's a regular. Nice enough. Comes in on his own. Told someone a while ago he'd got cancer and not long to go. Who knows? Never any trouble, though. Came in as usual for a quiet pint. Next thing (slaps his hands) - crash! off the stool, on the floor, gameover. I think he's probably dead, mate.' Checking his watch, hurrying things along. He turns to wave instructions to the girls behind the bar.
No pulse, either. D. has already cut down the centre of his shirt and pullover, exposing his chest. I start compressions.
Above my head on the wide plasma screen TV, it's half time and the experts are dissecting the match. As I call out every ten compressions I look to my right. The punters are well-provided for, dividing their attention between the TV, the resus in progress and their mates. Crisps, peanuts, another pint of guiness, a spritzer and a pint of lager, don't care what. Cheapest.
A man leans in at the window and says something like: 'I can see you're doing your best,' like he's giving encouragement to some clumsy painters and decorators.
D. asks the landlord to at least close the window. He does that, and then hangs the dog's blanket over the door window. He's not letting any more people in. This is a grim lock-in. He probably thinks it would be too much to explain to anyone new.
D. has placed the defib pads on. I stop compressions to let him evaluate the heart rhythm. Asystole. I'm back on the chest again whilst he calls for back-up on his mobile. Control says that they don't have a paramedic available nearby but will try their best. Police, too, he says.
This is his second resus today. I smile at him. 'Jonah' I say. This is my first ever. I wonder if I'm doing it right.
I look at the man's face. His skin is as grey as his long greasy hair. His eyes are like doll's eyes, dilated, immutable. There is nothing in this pub, not me, the TV, the noise of the drinkers or the buzz of the crowds outside that can reach him now.
We work for half an hour but the heart rhythm remains unchanged. A paramedic arrives and unpacks his kit but notes the time and declares the scene moments afterwards. The police arrive and clear the pub. I bring the trolley in as a policewoman searches his pockets for identification. She also takes his rings off and puts all his property in a bag. We lift him onto the trolley, and disguise the fact that he is dead by putting an oxygen mask on him, the blanket up to his chin. We wheel him out into the sunny, Saturday afternoon.
The landlord thanks us for our help as we leave. I know that he's lost a fair bit of money this afternoon, but he hides his frustration well.

Behind us, the bar staff clear the dead man's drink.

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