Midnight. The normally quiet residential street is a hive of activity, as busy and bustling as a midday marketplace. People have gathered from all over; neighbours, friends, relatives, all standing outside trying to make sense of the unfolding drama. We can see it all, hear it all from the bedroom, each of us taking turns to peek out to the street a dozen floors below as we rotate over and over again, each of us briefly the centre of the chaos, standing pumping his heart, then taking a break, a breath of fresh air and a glimpse out the window.
The bedroom is tiny, the furniture within taking up the vast majority of the space, leaving us with very little room to work, yet somehow we all fit in. Through the closed door we can hear the sounds from the lounge. It too is packed full of people, some who heard the initial shrieks and screams for help, some who received the panicked phone-call. Some were further along the communication tree, receiving word as the news branched out exponentially.
We know how much this means, how much is riding on our success or failure. Every call means the world to someone. Every patient needs our help equally at their time of distress, even if we don't always see it that way. It's hard for us to think that the patient who's had backache for a fortnight ranks as highly as our patient now. Sometimes we show our frustration, but mostly we treat what we see and who we are seeing as the centre of our attention, as though nothing else in the world matters now.
Right now, however, we really feel it. Nothing else matters. In that tiny, closed room is the entire universe and all that's important within. We are fighting for a life in one room, as in the other they can only wait. Every few minutes someone goes out to update them on what is happening behind the ominously closed doors.
It's all so different from the time before, when we worked in the lounge, watched throughout by a partner who knew she was saying goodbye to her lifelong companion. There was no noise, barely a sound uttered. Every few minutes she'd hover behind our backs and ask us if there was any change. At the third time of asking, when there was none, she calmly sat down and asked us to stop.
This time we stopped when we saw that all our efforts were futile. We fought for over an hour, far longer than we should have done, far longer than the protocol requires of us. We fought because it felt as though we couldn't afford to lose, even when we knew we were losing. We fought until we lost.
We sit silently behind the closed doors of the ambulance, tidying, cleaning, preparing the inevitable, intrusive paperwork. We are not quite hidden, more cocooned, yet unavoidably touched by the tragedy all around. More friends and family turn up at the scene, each showing grief in their own way. Some cry, some wail, some are silent and sombre. Some are more stoic, lending shoulders and strength to those who need it most.
Back upstairs, behind closed doors, a mother and her young children sit stunned as the building in which they reside remains upright but the entire world around them collapses.