I was chatting to my sister Ellie on the phone. She told me how things were with her, how her husband John was still having problems at work, passed over for promotion in favour of a younger crowd, anxious he was being excluded from the inner management team, maybe they’d be better off emigrating somewhere, the US perhaps? But then, how would that affect the kids? And Ellie’s feeling pressurised at work. A big move would probably do her good. She’s taught for twenty years, but whether it’s because the bureaucracy’s increased, the children are more difficult, she’s less energetic, or all of the above – whatever the reason, something’s got to give.
‘I don’t know’ she says. ‘I should probably do something else. But what? I don’t actively hate my job. I can’t say I love it, either, though. Maybe I could retrain. Be a midwife.’
We mull over the pros and cons. I tell her I’m in the same boat. I want to change jobs, but it’s a tough environment out there. It’s expensive to fund a course independently, and then there are all the stresses jumping ship. You get into a routine. Time passes. It’s easier to stay put.
‘It’s not like I dread going to work’ I tell her. ‘There are plenty of things I like about the ambulance. But working nights is bad for your health, all the heavy lifting. And the constant exposure to social problems. It gets to you after a few years. I was thinking about training as a counsellor, but I don’t know.’
‘It’s definitely an age thing’ she says. ‘It suddenly struck me the other day that a lot of the people we used to look up to are dead now. Do you think that? It’s scary, isn’t it? I get scared. Everyone seems to be dying. Do you worry about it?’
‘Yeah. Now and again.’
‘I mean – what do you think? You must see a lot of it.’
‘I do. A fair bit. But I suppose I’ve got to the point where I differentiate the business of dying with the idea of being dead. Dying is just a physical process like anything else. Pain and suffering, being alone, they’re the things that scare me about dying. But being dead? I think about it now and again. If it makes me scared I try to use that feeling to spur me on to write a bit more, or live a little better. But I don’t know. I’ve no idea.’
We move on to the trickier subject of organising a big family get-together in a few weeks. The politics of who said what and who to, travel arrangements, dogs and trains, can we bring a pasta salad etc. We finalise the date and say goodbye.
* * *
The cohort area in A&E is filling up. It hasn’t reached overflow yet, but that can’t be far off. I’ve been working on the car. There were so many emergency calls outstanding, Control couldn’t spare a truck to transport my patient. Luckily her stroke symptoms had resolved, she was fairly steady on her pins, so I helped her into the front seat and drove her in myself.
There’s no cohort nurse allocated. Crews are having to wait with their patients and there are already long delays. The crew just ahead of me in the cohort area finished their shift ten minutes ago. I’ve still got over an hour left, so I take their patient and set them free. I make sure my patient is comfortable and has everything she needs, then I introduce myself to my new charge.
Mr Rogers seems a little road-worn, a battered old rolator stacked-up behind him on the back of the trolley, along with an assortment of carrier bags and a waterproof coat. In his black suit and collarless shirt, his shoes flapping a bit at the sole, I can imagine him as an itinerant preacher, looking at the chaos around him with his light grey eyes, about to jump to his feet and address the crowd.
‘I’d just checked into the B&B and was going for a walk when the chest pain came on. The spray didn’t help so I ended up calling the ambulance. I’m all right now, though. I don’t know what all the fuss is about.’
I fetch him a cup of water and re-arrange his pillow.
‘You could have a nap,’ I tell him. ‘If you don’t, I will.’
I ask him if he’s visiting the area.
‘Moving,’ he says. ‘I had to leave the council flat I was in, so I’ve come down here to have a look.’
I don’t say anything, but it strikes me as odd – a man in his eighties, poor mobility, heart problems, hitting the road.
‘Sounds pretty tough,’ I say. ‘How are you managing?’
‘I do what I can’ he says. ‘What else is there?’