modern version

many years ago
riding our shining ambulance
we found ourselves called
to a hoarder’s house
the front door was bolted
so we went round the back
fighting through coils of brambles
so full and thick
it was like trying to breach
an enchantment of barbed wire

eventually we found her
not sleeping but dead
hanging off a perching stool
a bucket on her head

as far as resuscitations went
it didn’t
a complete non-starter
we snapped off our gloves
in the spiky arbour

poor sleeping beauty
a little older than I remember

and the moral
to this horror?
I don’t know
enchantments come and go
brambles, princesses
uniformed witnesses
the best you can do is stay awake
and time how long an ambulance takes

little red rookie

It’s too much of a coincidence. I’d put money on that ambulance car parked outside the block being for Adnan. When I buzz the intercom, the voice that eventually answers – not the patient’s – sounds very familiar to me.
‘Well, well! I thought I recognised the appalling handwriting!’ says Ryan, throwing the door wide and grabbing me to him in a great big uniformed bear hug. ‘How’re you doing, man?’
‘I’m good! I’m good!’
‘Yeah – you are!’

It’s been a while since I’ve seen him. Two years, in fact, ever since I left the ambulance service and made the sideways step into community health. I’d run into most of the other crews in that time; Ryan is probably the last.
‘I’d heard rumours,’ he says, showing me into the flat. ‘Tracks in the snow, that kind of thing. I have to say you’re looking well. Horribly well. It’s quite disgusting how well you look.’
‘No nights’ I tell him. ‘That and not having a radio on my belt.’
‘Damned right,’ he says, slapping me on the shoulders again. ‘Completely damned right. Well, well!’
He ambles back over to the sofa, sits down with a great, easeful sigh, as impressively as a tattooed Viking warrior asked to wait out the battle in a chintzy front-room.
‘What’s your involvement, then, Jimmy boy?’
I can tell from his demeanour he’s not worried about the patient. And it’s true – Adnan seems comfortable enough, in the same high-backed chair I’d left him in just that morning, his leg up on a riser.
‘Tinzaparin injections,’ I tell him. ‘A daily prophylactic dose, post knee op. And then just obs and generally making sure everything’s okay.’
I smile at Adnan; he nods and waves his hand in the air.
‘We used to work together,’ I tell him, by way of explanation, but I can see he doesn’t understand.
‘Where’s Rema?’ I say, turning back to Ryan.
‘The daughter? She just nipped out to her car to get her phone.’
‘So – what’s brought you over, then?’
‘It came through as a difficulty in breathing, but everything checked out and it looks more like anxiety exacerbated by abdo pain – which I’m guessing has something to do with Adnan not opening his bowels these past five days or so.’
‘Yep. That’s definitely a thing. The enema should be delivered early this evening.’
‘Great. Okay. So when Rema gets back, why don’t we all have a bit of a review and decide where to go from here?’
‘Sounds good to me. Meanwhile, I’ll do the Tinz.’
And he carries on writing, stopping every now and again to chat and swap juicy bits of gossip.

It’s great to see Ryan again. I learned so much about ambulance work from him – how to take each job as it came; how to recognise when you had time to step back and think, and when you didn’t; how important it was to keep your sense of humanity, and humour, and how to conserve your energy for the long and relentless run of it all.
It was always such a comfort turning up on station for a shift to find out I was working with him. It would fill me with a great sense of security. I knew that whatever happened that day or night (and for some reason, particularly night) so long as I was with Ryan, I’d be okay, and everything would be fine.
I have one particular memory. It was early on in my time as an EMT, and I was still in that phase when every job that came through filled me with horror. We’d been called to an unconscious patient in a pizza restaurant. When we got there the place was in uproar. A gang of drunk teenage boys had gone in for something to eat, and one of them had passed out on the floor. Whilst I tried to figure out whether he was actually unconscious or not (he wasn’t) the others were jumping around, tipping oregano on his head, laughing, swearing, play-fighting and generally getting in the way. I’d tried to be as commanding as I could, but nothing worked. (I can’t remember where the restaurant staff were, and the police certainly hadn’t pitched up yet). Ryan had hung back for a moment, just to see what I could do for myself. When it was clear I’d lost control, he waded in.
‘Right. You, you and you – OUT!’ he’d thundered. And although I admit my memory of the whole thing is probably unreliable, still I think I see him striding out of the restaurant, kids hanging off his arms and neck like rangy dogs round the arms and neck of a gigantic bear, before being hurled off into the night with yelps and barks.

If there was ever a paramedic who deserved his own graphic novel, it was Ryan. I would certainly have bought a copy (and got him to sign it, too).

Rema hurries back into the flat, and smiles when she sees me.
‘Oh – hi! How are you?’ she says, finishing the call she was making.
‘I’m glad you’re back,’ says Ryan. ‘Jimmy was doing his best, but the only Arabic word he knows is habibi.’
And they all laugh so much – even Adnan – I can’t help blushing.