A grand old house, maybe a century old, maybe even older, stands at the top of the long, dark road. Balloons and a Welcome Home sign hang over the front door, but once inside, more traditional decorations greet visitors walking into what looked from the outside like a stately manor, but inside was yet another nursing home. A tree in the corner, tinsel around the door handles and frames, cards strung from one side of the dining room to the other. The staff were all in a jovial mood, some wearing festive hats, many wearing badges and gimmicky trinkets on their uniforms. Even the dozen or so residents seemed to be enjoying themselves.
A carer meets us by the door and shows us to Mr Hella's room.
"He is unconscious. He's diabetic and his sugar is low. We've tried to give him glucose tablets and that gel stuff, but nothing is working, so we've had to call you."
"No problem. That's what we're here for." We notice the spotless carpets, the freshly painted walls and the furniture that looked either brand new or just very well cared for. "Nice to see a home where people actually take time to look after the place! Have you had it done up just for Christmas?"
"Something like that. We're trying to keep it that way and hopefully it will last." He points to the room at the end of the corridor and tells us that the nurse is there to help us further.
"Oh, good. You're here. We've tried everything to bring him round, but nothing's working. Hope this isn't a waste of your time."
Mr Hella's blood sugar has dropped so far, that the machine won't even give us a reading. A digital "LO" flashes up on the screen, although we didn't really need to check it. All the classic signs were there. A thready, rapid pulse, sweat pouring off him in buckets and an odd sounding snore when he breathed.
"We've only known him three days, he's a lovely chap and nearly ninety, but this is the second time he's done this to us in two days. Last time we managed to bring him round. He's not on insulin, just tablets, but they must be too strong for him."
As we find a vein and draw up some glucose to feed his blood with some much needed sugar, we have time to talk to the nurse, complimenting her and the staff again for keeping the care home so clean, making the effort, and especially for being helpful to ambulance crews. Too often when we're called to care homes we're met more by apathy and resignation than by helpful, knowledgeable staff. Assuming, that is, that we're met at all. Sometimes we have to guess which of the rooms is hiding our patient, often having stood outside the building for some time before anyone let us in.
This place was a timely reminder that not all care homes are the same.
"Good to see that you seem to have a system that works well when you call an ambulance."
"You think it works?"
"Well, we were met at the front door, given a brief idea of what's going on, shown the way to our patient, and had a handover from someone who knows the patient and their condition. I'd say that's a pretty good system."
"Isn't it the same in all these places?"
"You're kidding, aren't you?"
"Well, I'm glad you think it works. You're our first ambulance."
"No. First ambulance ever."
"What? You've never had to call an ambulance before?"
"No. Never." An amazingly rare feat for any care home, and a record to be proud of.
Mr Hella starts to come round, the sugary water coursing through his blood and up into his brain.
"Who are you?"
"Ambulance service, sir. It seems you gave these people a bit of a fright."
"Oh, I'm so sorry. Did my sugar level drop again?" It seems that he's more used to his condition than the staff who are looking after him.
"Just a little. They seem to take good care of you here."
"They are truly amazing. I only wish I could have moved here sooner."
"When did you move here?"
"Three days ago. My family have been trying to convince me either to move in with one of them or move into a home ever since my wife died. I needed someone to care for me when I pulled these sorts of tricks."
"So what took you so long?"
"First, I'm a stubborn old fool, and proud of it. Secondly, all the places I looked at were awful. Or worse. But I had a look around here when they were just putting it together and when they opened, I jumped at the chance!"
"Jumped?" asked the nurse with an amused grin.
"Well, gently moved in a positive direction."
We all laughed. "I think, since this is your second attempt at being difficult in as many days, we should probably get you checked at hospital. Just to make sure you're going to behave."
"Hospital already? I've only been here five minutes!"
"But," said the nurse, "you do have the distinct honour of being our first ever ambulance patient."
"Well, that's no surprise, is it?"
Confused, I had to ask the obvious question. "Why isn't that surprising?"
"Well, they've only been open for three days. I was their first ever customer!"
No amount of pleading would convince him to take a seat on our wheelchair out to the ambulance. "I'll walk, thanks. Just get me my frame. I might be old, but I'm not that elderly. And you," he said, looking back to the nurse, "make sure you look after the place until I get back. Can't have my new home going to ruin whilst I'm away."
"Don't worry. We'll keep the sign up just for you, Mr Hella."