A crescent moon hangs in the sky, fighting for supremacy over the scattered clouds. Street lights and unnecessarily illuminated buildings pollute the atmosphere and hide the stars, but the blue lights twinkle in their stead. The night is drawing to an end, the last night. The last shift. As it heads to a close, I think back to my first day, my first call, my first patient and wonder if my last call is going to be quite as bizarre.
The calls all night have been routine. No major trauma, no critically ill patients.
"What would you like your last call to be?" My observer for the shift had been quizzing me all night on all aspects of my years on the front line. What had I seen, what had I missed, how had I coped with the mundane, the bizarre and the upsetting.
"I'd love to deliver a baby. Bring one more life into the world. I think that would round everything off very nicely."
It's a far cry from my early years. Maternity calls used to terrify me, even the simple transports. The thought that a routine call could go so horribly wrong, the thought that I could suddenly be thrown from caring for a straightforward pregnant woman to suddenly fighting for two lives at once, used to scare me more than any other call.
A healthy dose of reality, six months on the Baby Bus and delivering almost a dozen babies in just one year (I wonder if that's some sort of record?) put paid to that fear. In total, over the years, I delivered sixteen, but none in the last year. Just one more would be a nice way to end.
"I guess it'll be nicer than a resus!"
"Pretty much anything would be nicer than a resus."
The address appeared on the screen but there were still no other details. A minute later, an update gave the patient's age and gender. Forty-eight year old female. There was still some hope that it would be what I'd asked for, although the chances were slim. Eventually, the call was completed and categorised. Red 2, Breathing problems. Delay as caller very distressed. Caller is patient's mother.
It could be anything from a panic attack to an asthma attack, from back pain to a head ache. It might, just might, even be the wished for maternity. Approaching the address in the early hours of the morning whilst watching the horizon start to brighten, the two of us travel the last mile in silence, trying to prepare mentally for what we could be about to see and the fact that at least for one of us, it'll be for the last time.
An elderly lady, presumably the caller, stands outside the property, one hand on a walking stick and the other using a car bonnet for balance.
"Quick, quick! She's just in the lounge. She won't talk to me!"
Between the two of us, we grab all the bags we're likely to need, at least to start with, to deal with anything from a simple faint to a cardiac arrest. At least five decades younger than our host, we overtake her on the way to the patient and find Tammy sitting in an armchair, eyes wide open but unable to speak. Her mum had finally caught up with us, automatically accepting the two strangers in her front room as if she had known and trusted them for years.
"There's been nothing wrong with her. She's always in and out of here making sure that I'm alright, but she doesn't even take paracetamol!"
Tammy's blood pressure is high and her pulse slower than normal. Her speech is slurred and confused, and she seems troubled by her lost faculties. One arm is strong, the other has no power at all. She can move her head with no problems, so we ask questions with yes or no answers. She understands some, appears confused by others, but keeps trying to answer.
The ambulance arrives, a crew I recognise and who both immediately understand two things; the seriousness of the patient's condition and the fact that this will be my last patient. One unfolds the carry chair, the safety rings clattering into place as they rattle metal on metal. Tammy is helped into the chair, wrapped in a blanket to keep her warm and secured with a strap to keep her safe.
Loaded once more with the bags on our backs, my observer and I walk out behind Tammy and the crew and watch as she's loaded into the ambulance. The tail-lift shuts into place with a thump, the hydraulic whine easing as the pressure is taken off. Moments later, the back door closes too, the blue lights are switched on and Tammy is rushed to hospital.
The return journey to station is almost silent. Traffic is starting to build as the world begins to go about its daily business. A thousand thoughts run through my head. A thousand faces, a thousand places, a thousand cases. But as we finally pull in, driving into the garage for one final time, only one face remains. Tammy looking back at me through the open ambulance door and nodding a wordless thank you.