‘You must see this all the time.’
‘You see a fair bit.’
‘Quite a strange job, when you think about it.’
‘You get used to it.’
‘I mean – for us, this is a terrible emergency. Ping! Pow! This, then that. But you? I suppose for you this is your bread and butter. Just an average day.’
‘You do get used to it.’
‘Walking in through the door to God knows what. To us!’
‘Never a dull moment.’
I have no idea who this family member is. We’re standing shoulder to shoulder in a wide white hallway. An elegant metal staircase rises up in front of us, past discretely illuminated alcoves set with oriental marionettes, ceramic horses, a reclining abstract in gleaming black stone. The atmosphere of the house is one of thoughtfully modulated space, a domesticated art gallery, spot lit, clutter free, recesses lined with fascinating books, chairs to read them in. But for now, the two of us stand at the foot of the stairs like two amiable critics at a three act domestic farce, our arms folded, slightly back on our heels, enjoying the comings and goings, the calls and confirmations, the runnings up the stairs with shoes and jackets, and the runnings down with slippers and bags.
The call was to an unconscious twenty two year old female. When we arrived, the panelled front doors threw themselves open before Rae had even touched the lion’s head knocker. Suddenly we found ourselves hitched to the back of a cross-talking, cross-purposed mob of elderly, middle-aged and young people, all speaking at once, all with a different view of events, covering everything from the patient’s condition, the school she went to, travel arrangements for a recent festival and building work scheduled for the kitchen. We fought this Hydra with our bags and clipboard all the way up the stairs to where Gemma lay groaning on a rucked double bed, her legs drawn up to counter the pain.
It took some firm talking and strategic coralling to clear space enough in the room to establish the facts: which were - no immediate danger, but did need a hospital examination. Gemma was sufficiently self-possessed to insist on putting some clothes on before coming out to the ambulance, so I left Rae and Gemma’s mum to help with this whilst I went to get the vehicle ready. As I excused my way through the crowd on the landing, I scattered grains of reassurance and comfort behind me, and sauntered back down the stairs. The man was waiting patiently for me at the bottom.
‘I’ll read that as a good sign, then,’ he said, taking off his silver specs and rubbing them clean on his linen shirt. ‘Unless you always take bad news that way.’
‘It’s fine. Gemma needs to see a doctor at the hospital. It could be appendicitis, but there are other things, too. It’s difficult to tell.’
‘Can I help get anything?’
‘No thanks. You’re good.’
A minute later and we’re standing at the foot of the stairs waiting for everyone to come down.
‘So. How do you get in to this line of work?’
‘I had a temp job in a hospital and got talking to some of the crews who came in. I was looking for something permanent. It sounded interesting.’
‘What did you do before?’
‘I taught English at a secondary school.’
‘Yep.’ I rock backwards on my heels and struggle to contain a yawn. ‘But this is less stressful.’