I’m on the bike when the phone rings.
“Kal? I’ve got an emergency, but I think it’s out of your jurisdiction…”
“Where is it?”
“It’s in Belfast Road.”
Belfast Road is outside my jurisdiction, but only just.
“What’s the job?”
“It’s a five year old male with breathing difficulties – we’ve got a warning on the system that he’s got significant health problems.”
Suddenly I know exactly the house she’s referring to – I saw this kid about three years ago – he has some serious issues, in-house nursing and a set of parents who have the “ambulance phoning” tolerances of people who are used to their kid being, habitually, far, far sicker than your average bairn.
If they’ve called us, there’s something serious going on.
Down the hill I go, through junctions and lights, filtering when I can; Edinburgh cyclists are notoriously rubbish at obeying traffic laws anyway, drivers aren’t too shocked to see me cutting up the inside of roundabouts.
I’m wheeling my bike into the front lobby of the house, all custom wheelchairs and trikes, when my phone rings again.
“Are you on scene, Kal?”
“Mate, we’ve got a single crew making to back you up, but nobody for transport. I’ll clear a vehicle as soon as I can and you’ll be top of my list, ok?”
Great. Stuck in the house with a patient who probably needs to be in hospital. Now. Smashing.
The patient is Jamie, his Mum, Dad and nursing team brief me calmly, but quickly. Jamie is breathing far too fast, he’s far too hot, his lungs are full of phlegm. Where most kids have a bedside light, Jamie has an oxygen saturation monitor; where other kids sleep with Vick on their pillow, Jamie sleeps with plastic tubes in his nose giving him supplemental oxygen.
He cannot turn himself, or sit unaided, or tell me about his symptoms. Where I’d ask his peers questions, I resort to chatting to him about what we’re doing, explaining myself as I press the head of my stethoscope against his chest and back, apologising as I hoover around the inside of his cheeks, the back of his tongue, slurping snot and drool from his airway with a suction catheter.
Jamie makes eye contact, his cognitive abilities are comparable with his peers and he’s very, very sick.
He just can’t tell me.
Through the open front door I hear the diesel clatter of an ambulance pull up and a solitary technician walks in, I bring him up to date.
“I’d just sooner he was in resus, rather than here?”
He agrees, but there’s a problem. He’s single crewed, I’m on a bike. He can drive the ambulance, but I’d need to travel in the back to look after the patient en route. If I was in an RRU we’d just park it up outside, but the bike’s a little vulnerable to theft for that. These aren’t the sorts of jobs the bike typically responds to.
I come up with an idea, it’s unorthodox, but might work. I turn to Jamie’s Mum.
“We can take him into hospital now, but it would involve leaving the mountain bike in your hallway – do you have a spare set of keys I could borrow so I can come back and collect it?”
She, with that unquestioning trust that shocks me everytime I experience it, digs in a dresser drawer and passes me a set.
“Just post them through the letterbox when you’re done.”
We load Jamie up, crash him into Resus and leave him with the staff there.
I cadge a lift from an RRU back to Belfast Road. The car vanishes around the corner and leaves me on the pavement, keys in hand.
I slide the first into the Yale lock.
It doesn’t turn.
I try the second key.
It turns a little, but jams.
They’ve given me the wrong keys.
My response vehicle is locked INSIDE THE PATIENT’S HOUSE.
I realise I’m going to have to phone Control and get them to send another vehicle to pick me up, return to the Sick Kids, swap keys with Jamie’s Mum and then return here. This is a kerfuffle that I would rather not subject the mother of a critically ill child to.
Also, I will look like a dick.
I lean on the front door, hard. The wood flexes around a single point – perfect, the door is only secured by a single Yale lock, its spring forcing the bolt into the stay on the door frame. It’s an old door, with plenty of give in it.
In my pocket is a Quick Guide to ECGs. It’s long and thin and made of stiff, flexible plastic. I don’t need it for reading ECGs anymore, but it’s JUST the job for shimming doors open. This’ll be easy, I’ll force the door, grab my bike, leave the keys on the mat as though I dropped them through the letterbox and sneak away. I am practically a cat burgling assassin secret agent.
I slip the plastic down the doorframe, saw it back and forth and feel a little tingle of illicit satisfaction as the lock says “snick” and the door opens.
The hallway is full of large palms.
A wooden chair sits by a side table.
A coat rack occupies another corner.
A radio plays in the background.
There are no wheelchairs.
No children’s coats on the rack.
The picture montage of Jamie that hangs in the hall of Jamie’s house…isn’t there.
I’m next door.
I shut the door silently and run on tiptoes to Jamie’s house, where the keys fit beautifully, the bike is where I left it and I’m able to beat a rapid retreat down the street before anyone spots me burgling anywhere else.
And then I don’t tell anyone.