They lie there, piled safely behind the back seat of the car, starting the shift as reassuring, rarely used spares.
It's an uncommon thing to use a single, whole one in a shift, especially on the car. The crews come and whisk the patients away, using their own supply, leaving the car's one barely depleted. That night had been different. A collection was slowly accumulating, with no way of returning the empties to station, relying on the crews to replace them with fulls instead. Half way through the shift, and three of them had already been emptied, each on a separate, critically ill patient.
They lie there, piled safely behind the back seat of the car, spent, empty, used. There's one left in the bag, as yet unstarted, untouched. Enough for just one more, but surely, not tonight. Tonight has been tough enough already.
He lies there, unconscious, barely breathing, the machine fighting with him, for him, but it isn't strong enough. Compressing the air and pumping what it can against the odds, all the while making no difference at all. We look at his chest, listen to his breathing, and whilst he's making the movements, no air seems to move. We'll have to breathe it for him.
Out it comes, turned up to full blast, the jet of air blasting out, hissing like an invisible snake, filling up the reservoir bag and mask to capacity. As fast as it fills the bag, we empty it into his lungs, forcing them to work against their wishes. We struggle, full in the knowledge that we're fighting a losing battle, but losing doesn't mean we've lost. Losing doesn't allow us to give up. So we struggle out of the house, into the ambulance, and to the hospital.
It lies there, piled up with the others behind the back seat of the car. Each silently telling its own different story.
And in the front, he sits wondering what's happened, and why. Why so many, why so ill, and the last one, especially the last one, why so young?
Another life in our hands, another battle fought, maybe won, maybe lost, and another whole cylinder now showing empty.