We’ve handed over our patient in fast AF to the resus team. It’s frantic in there so I don’t hang around, but take the trolley out to clean and prep for the next one. The triage area immediately outside resus is so crowded it’s difficult to find space to move. I struggle to put the pat slide back in its place, and have to move the trolley backwards and forwards to make room for a bed to go through to CT, to let someone else out of resus, to let another crew come in the main doors. When it’s clear again I grab some wipes from the dispenser by the door and wipe the trolley down, bantering with staff and colleagues, getting my breath and checking out the general lie of the place.
There are about ten hospital trolleys crowding out the place like a terrible flood has picked them up from somewhere else and swept them all together: elderly patients in various states of distress; a drunk completely covered in a blanket, snoring; a young woman with her legs drawn up, sucking on a cylinder of gas and air; a middle-aged guy with a bloody nose and black eyes, all of them with relatives established where they can, slumped in poses of boredom or despair – and then a young guy sitting straight-backed on the fixed seats that run between CT and the door to the radiographers’ office. He’s extraordinarily tall and thin, drawn-up like a giant stick of asparagus, with his hair in tight curls making his head look twice the size. He’s preoccupied, like me, taking in the scene, the pallor of his face intensifying the power of his gaze. There are some human touches about him – the bloody bandages round his forearms, the bangles round his neck, the Pierce the Veil t-shirt – but it all looks premeditated, unconvincing, like an alien that’s come down in secret to check out our emergency health care and been made up to look like a self-harming teenager.
And then he turns his gaze on me.
It’s quite a shock to take such a direct look. I cover myself by nodding and mouthing something like Are you all right? but he doesn’t react. He just stares at me, his mouth slack, exactly as he had been looking at the people around him. I blush, and to cover my embarrassment I make a showily professional job of preparing the trolley.
Just before I leave I sneak a look back at him but he’s left his chair now. He’s standing on the edge of the triage area, his arms down by his sides, staring out at the rest of the department, taking it all in.
I have an overpowering urge to go and stand next to him and ask what he thinks of it all, but there’s no time and anyway, if there’s one thing the department can do without, it’s another bloody alien.