‘You’ll need a
back board,’ says Paul. Then he lets go of the door, turns round and heads back
inside, where he resumes his position, spooning with Cariad on the bed in the
sitting room. It’s a double-sized frame with two single mattresses, a high one for
Cariad, and a lower one with a spread of all her necessaries – two laptops, a
pile of inco pads, a box of tissues, an assortment of treats, a landline,
mobile phone and walkie talkie, all charging in a nest of cables.
‘I’m not going
to hospital,’ she says, pushing her wig back to get a better look.
doctor needs to get off her fat arse and get down here now,’ says Paul.
He’s as bulky as
Cariad is fragile. The bed dips alarmingly in his direction, and she has to
bunch up her knees and cheat her weight forward to avoid being drawn back and
the two of them roll off onto the floor. But even if they did they wouldn’t
hurt themselves. The bed is surrounded by a clutter of soft toys, coats,
cushions and assorted bric-a-brac.
‘So what’s the
problem?’ I say, adding a little pathetically ‘We haven’t been told much.’
happening,’ says Paul, shifting his bulk into a sitting position, ‘What’s happening is that Cariad has been
choking to death, turning blue and everything and the doctor won’t do a thing
about it. She just told us to call you lot.’
The way he says lot. A candy-coating on something
‘Well if you
were turning blue it’s no wonder he said dial 999.’ I put my bag down. ‘So how
are you feeling now?’
‘Like I’m going
to die, that’s how I’m feeling now,’ says Cariad. ‘I can’t breathe properly. My
inhalers don’t work. I’m going to choke to death and no-one cares.’
Her voice is
sharp and short as a paring knife.
‘The good news
is that you’re able to talk to me now,’ I say. ‘So your breathing is okay for the
‘Oh? It’s okay,
is it? Well I’m sorry if you think I’m wasting your time.’
‘No, no. That’s
not what I meant. I can tell even without listening to your chest that you’ve probably
got a bit of a chest infection.’
‘A bit of a
chest infection? Is that what he said? A bit of a chest infection?’
Paul stands up
and stomps out of the room, muttering.
I have a sudden,
empty feeling, like a mountaineer who’s stepped confidently out onto a slope
only to find it’s really a bridge of snow over a crevasse, doomed whether he
goes back or carries on.
doesn’t matter,’ she says. ‘I’m not going to hospital. How will I get home?’
‘Why don’t we
check your SATS, blood pressure and the rest and then take it from there?’ I
say, opening my bag. ‘One step at a time.’
Paul comes back
into the room, red in the face, like he’d only nipped out to shoot steroids in
doing now?’ he says. ‘I’m her carer. You should ask me first.’
one who has to decide about her treatment,’ Rae says. ‘But obviously we won’t
do anything that everyone’s not happy about.’
‘I’m not happy
about it, ‘ he says. ‘Not happy at all. First the doctor, now this.’
Rae takes some
observations, I write them down, asking questions that Cariad answers reluctantly.
looking pretty good,’ I say at last. ‘It sounds as if you do have a chest
infection, Cariad. Lying down like this makes it difficult to clear your lungs.
Are you able to sit up? Only I saw your wheelchair in the hall and I thought
‘No! I have to
‘Okay. Well. Given
that you went blue a little while ago, and it’s obviously been distressing for
thing would be to take you to hospital. Even though it might be difficult to
get you there.’
‘Like I said,’
snaps Paul, ‘You’re going to need a back board. Why does no-one ever listen?’
‘I can’t go to
hospital. Not after last time.’
take me home, so I had to lie on the floor of a taxi, screaming in agony the
whole way. I won’t do it, Paul! I can’t!’
‘If she goes to
hospital, are you going to bring her back?’ he says.
‘It won’t be us,
and I can’t even say it’ll be a frontline crew. But this should be the last of
your worries given the problems you’ve had with your breathing. You’ll just
have to cross that bridge when you come to it.’
‘I’m not coming
home like that again,’ wails Cariad. ‘I’d rather die here.’
you,’ says Paul, plucking up a teddy bear by the face and looking at me.
‘If we do decide
to go in,’ I say, trying to keep my voice as low and steady as I can, ‘it’ll be
a little difficult getting out. We’ll have to clear all this stuff off the bed
to get to you.’
‘No! Not my
‘We’ll put it
aside somewhere safe.’
‘Then we’ll have
a think what’s the best way to get you out.’
Christ, how many more times have I got to tell you.’
‘Try to keep
your temper, Paul’ I say to him. ‘We’re doing our best.’
‘The last crew
‘I’m sorry to
‘Yeah. Well. You’re sorry.’
He throws the
bear off to the side, snatches up a box of tissues, tosses them after it.
definitely going in then, are we?’ he says to Cariad.
‘I don’t know!’
she shouts. ‘Why can’t the doctor come out?’
‘We could certainly
call the doctor and see what they say,’ I suggest.
‘Do it,’ says
speaking to her,’ says Cariad. ‘Useless piece of shit.’
Rae calls the
doctor. After a while she hands to phone to Paul.
‘She wants a
Paul grips the
phone, holding it a little way off from his ear, like he’s wary of infection.
After a short series of grunts and sighs he hands it back, then leaves the room
Rae finishes the
call, and hangs up.
‘She wants you
to go in for a chest X-ray, Cariad. Just to rule out the possibility of
pneumonia or other complications.’
‘But how am I
going to get back?’ says Cariad.
‘They can’t do
an X-ray at home.’
her face in a pillow.
We call for
another crew to help. Even though Cariad isn’t heavy, the fact that she has to
be kept flat makes things tricky. The front room is cramped, we can’t get the
trolley in the front door, and the only way out is through the kitchen and down
a short flight of concrete steps into the garden. It’s no wonder the other crew
perversely – I quite like these difficult extrications. Three-dimensional
puzzles that demand a creative use of kit, teamwork and a flair for cheating
angles. But Paul changes the dynamic. He masses darkly behind us all like a thunderhead storm cloud, flashes of
disapproval, spots of anger.
Just before the
second crew arrives I offer to help clear the second mattress.
asked me that already,’ he shouts. ‘I’m doing it, aren’t I?’
swear at us, Paul. Okay?’
He keeps his
back to me as he unplugs the laptops. I’m increasingly mindful of striking
The second crew gets
here. Between us we discuss how best to get her out, at the same time
struggling to contain Cariad’s rising levels of anxiety. She won’t even let us
look at her meds. She clutches them to her chest like she’s terrified we’re
going to steal them.
everything we manage to get ourselves into position, ready to slide Cariad from
the furthest mattress onto the backboard.
even though I’m certain we haven’t done anything to cause her any pain.
Stop! That’s it!’ shouts Paul, storming forwards. ‘You can fuck off, the lot of
you! I’m not having this. Put her back. You put her back how she was! Now!’
swear at us,’ I tell him, wishing I could think of something else. ‘We’re doing
‘Well it’s not
good enough. Put her back, now.’
‘Is that what
you want, Cariad?’ asks Rae, in a steady voice. ‘We can carry on and take you
to hospital if that’s what you’d like us to do.’
But Cariad is
just crying and shaking her head, so we slide her back, pack up our things and
We rendezvous back at
base to put in an untoward incident form,
and to alert any other crews who might have to attend in future. Whilst we’re
there, Control ring. They want me to tell them what happened. ‘Because we’ve
got Paul on the phone,’ says the dispatcher. ‘Guess what? He says you refused
to take her to hospital.’