The house at the far side of the close is dark and cool. An elderly woman meets us at the door. What light there is from the broad kitchen window behind her reflects dully on her greying hair.
‘Upstairs,’ she smiles pleasantly. ‘Mind the toys.’
The wooden treads on the stairs are stripped back, painted white. They creak under the weight of our boots and bags.
Beatrice is lying in the dark on a rumpled bed, cradling her four year old daughter, Cheryl. Beatrice pushes herself up as we come in the room and smiles.
‘Thanks for coming, guys,’ she whispers. ‘I’m afraid Cheryl went down with the measles about four days ago. The spots have all come out and everything has been going pretty well until today. She became quite floppy and out of it, moaning and obviously distressed. I phoned my GP and she bounced me on to you. Sorry to drag you out like this.’
‘It’s no bother.’
She leans back over Cheryl and tenderly clears the hair that’s stuck to her sweated forehead.
‘We made it dark because she’s become really sensitive to the light. So if you could just hold back from shining anything in her eyes that’d be great. Thank you.’
Frank sits on the opposite side of the bed and examines Cheryl. Her SATS are low, and she breathes quickly, with a hungry little tug at her throat. She has a temperature of forty.
‘We’ll be heading off down the hospital pretty soon,’ he says, taking the stethoscope from his ears and looping it innocently round his neck. I hand him an oxygen mask. Cheryl accepts it passively.
‘I’m afraid she’s really quite unwell,’ he says. ‘I don’t think this is a meningococcal rash, but I’m worried about her low oxygen levels, her temperature and general condition. Have you been giving her anything? Any paracetamol?’
Beatrice reaches for the side table and puts on her glasses.
‘We’ve been treating Cheryl homeopathically. Our practitioner said it was important to let the fever burn off the infection.’
Frank shifts uncomfortably.
‘Well – I don’t know about that,’ he says. ‘But a high temperature needs controlling. Not only is it a bad thing in itself, but the side effects will make you feel pretty rubbish. I know I wouldn’t want to go any length of time with a fever like this without taking something.’
‘So do you think…’
‘I really do.’
She pauses a moment, then gestures for me to hand Frank the syringe of Calpol I’ve drawn up. She watches as he feeds it carefully and tenderly to the little girl.
The grandmother appears in the bedroom doorway.
‘Now then, darling. Don’t worry,’ she says, touching her daughter on the shoulder. ‘I’ll settle things here. You go off with Cheryl. I’ve got your phone and bag.’
‘Keys,’ says Beatrice.
‘I’ll lock up. And I’ll come out to the ambulance to hand you everything you need there.’
‘Let’s go,’ says Frank.
Beatrice scoops Cheryl into her arms, and we all head back down the stairs to the ambulance.
‘Are you okay to pass the ASHICE from the back?’ I say to Frank.
He nods, then explains what that means to Beatrice.