We’ve taken just a sip of coffee when Control decides to send us to an asthma attack in Bondi.
‘Went to a nasty asthma case with John the other day,’ I say. ‘She bloody died.’
Jerry leans across and flicks the siren on.
‘Better make some noise then,’ he says.
We fly past busy cafés, making such a racket that people put their fingers in their ears.
‘Look at them,’ Jerry scoffs, shaking his head. ‘We sit here with the siren blaring day and night and these Bondi hipsters can’t stand a few lame seconds.’
I take a wrong turn down a narrow one-way street. Before I can get out of it three cars have lined up behind us.
Jerry laughs. ‘Hope the patient’s not too crook.’
On cue, our data terminal updates. Our patient is no longer breathing. A friend has started mouth-to-mouth.
‘For fuck’s sake, man. I thought you knew this street?’ Jerry snaps. He opens his door and hops out. He walks back to direct the traffic behind us while I curse and reverse the ambulance with the siren on.
Once we’re out of the one-way trap it’s only half a minute to the scene. Heaped with our gear, we plunge down the stairs of a unit block. On the concrete porch outside number two, a young man is lying on his back surrounded by his flatmates. A pale girl with long hair is giving him the mouth-to-mouth. She looks up between each breath, her eyes pleading with us for help. The man’s friends are pacing about anxiously.
‘You’ve done well,’ I tell the girl. ‘Just stop there, let’s see how he is.’
She backs away. ‘His name’s Billy,’ she says. ‘He didn’t have his Ventolin. He said he was having asthma; we didn’t know what to do.’
But Billy’s breathing just fine. His lungs are inflating with ease and there’s not a hint of a wheeze. Jerry gently runs a finger over the lashes of Billy’s closed eyes. They flutter in response, a sure sign he’s not unconscious.
Jerry hates people bunging it on, and is clearly pissed off. But we have to be sensitive in how we resolve it. I lean down low beside Billy’s ear and speak in a whisper.
‘Now listen here, Billy. We know you’re a faker; I’ve seen many before you. We’re pretty hard to fool. You have your reasons and we don’t want to embarrass you. So what I’ll do is give you some oxygen and you can wake up slowly, okay?’
Billy gives me a subtle nod and I crank on the cylinder and let him have a minute of oxygen therapy.
‘He should pull through,’ I announce to the group. ‘Any second now he’ll come round.’
Billy begins to moan. He stirs gradually, like all fakers do, as if emerging from a spell. He rubs his eyes and looks around with comic-book confusion. ‘W–w– . . . what happened? Where am I?’ he asks. ‘What’re you all doing here?’
Together, Jerry and I escort Billy to his bedroom and close the door.
‘What’s with the stunt?’ I ask him.
‘I didn’t think they’d actually call you.’
‘You did tell them you were having an asthma attack.’
‘It wasn’t about that.’
‘Christie. I’ve liked Christie for years and she won’t go out with me. I can’t stop thinking about her. Do you know what that feels like? To love someone and not be loved back? Anyway, she did a first-aid certificate a couple of weeks ago and, well, I got to thinking . . .’
‘You wanted her to give you mouth-to-mouth?’
He nods. ‘Kiss of life, yeah. But not just that. I wanted to see if she cared enough to, you know, save me. . .’
Jerry sighs. I’m surprised he’s so unimpressed. Faking an asthma attack to get kissed by a girl is something I could imagine Jerry doing as a teenager.
Billy looks ashamed. ‘I really didn’t think they’d call you. I was enjoying it, and before I knew it you were there and I was in too deep. I’m sorry. Please don’t tell her I faked it, please . . .’
Some paramedics might contact the police at this point. But I like his sense of romance, his cheekiness. There’s not enough of it about these days.
As we walk out the door I glance back at Billy, sitting on the edge of his bed, a victim of unrequited love, tenderly licking his lips with a smile.