A totally unexpected flashback that instantaneously took me to the scene, one I hadn't visited for several years.
The mind plays tricks on me, sending me back into the adrenaline rush that I remember as though it was yesterday instead of yesteryear, I feel my heart pound with the same sense of urgency and excitement, hear the sounds as though I'm still there and see the sights as though looking at freshly printed photographs.
As I sit propped up against the wall, the view around me clears, the sounds of the crickets chirping away float in on the breeze through the window, the dimmed city lights come into clearer focus, I remember instead of dream.
Sonia stood by the side of the road in amongst the crowd but strangely apart from it. In that early, drizzly evening the bus stop was filled with people, some genuine passengers waiting for the bus to take them home, some undoubtedly who had stopped especially to witness the scene. A few stood with their phones in their hands, taking photographs or videos to be shared later with their friends or family or perhaps the world. Maybe if I checked YouTube later that day, I'd see freshly filmed footage of our work.
It's all too common, the menace of the casual observer. It's tempting to shout, plead for the crowds to disperse and respect the patient's privacy as though it was their own mother or father, but even when I do, nothing seems to happen. More often than not, it's easier to leave them be and carry on with the work that needs to be done. The privacy we are sworn to protect is trampled on by anyone on the outside with a digital recording device of any sort, but we are powerless to stop it.
Sonia was different, telling me her name as soon as I got there. She stayed perfectly calm amongst the baying crowd that was now being held at arm's length by the police cordon and an angry sergeant. Her hands stayed either in her pockets or on her hips as she just watched, making sure she was always as near as possible. It was unnerving at first. She was already there when I first arrived in the car, holding his hand as they waited. But as soon as I stepped in, she took her spot on the pavement and just watched.
"Do you know him?" I called out to her. She shook her head as I attached an oxygen mask to his face.
"Did you see what happened?" Same response, an almost detached but fascinated look in her eyes.
As I started to check his blood pressure I notice that his breathing has become a little erratic, making me abandon the pumped-up cuff on his arm and move back to his head where I take over the breathing, the reservoir bag on the bag and mask filling with life-saving oxygen which I then pump into his lungs one gentle breath at a time. The ambulance crew arrive just as he starts to become difficult to manage, fighting the mask, fighting us, fighting an invisible terror.
Sonia takes an audible gasp. Someone in the bus stop laughs and turns their camera towards her. I look up to see her mouth one word: Sorry.
He's loaded into the ambulance, the backboard and straps hold him in place as the crew prepare to transport him.
As I'm packing away the equipment and a white tent is set up over where the patient was found, I notice the police are talking to several of the witnesses, Sonia amongst them. I leave the bags by the car, knowing that for now the kit was protected by the invisible force-field afforded by the police tape, and step over to her.
"Are you sure you didn't know him? You didn't see anything that happened?"
"I'm sure. He was just lying there and it felt like the right thing to do, just to hold his hand." A tear streamed down one cheek.
"You seemed interested in what we were doing, more than most. Are you OK with everything? I know it wasn't too nice to watch what we were doing."
"I'm fine. It was just something I had to see."
"Because I don't remember anything."
"What do you mean you don't you remember?"
"Last month, that man lying in the road was me. And I just don't remember."