'My husband's having a heart attack! Somebody help!'
Words guaranteed to make anyone in the immediate vicinity either administer some kind of medical aid or grab the nearest handset to summon it. Or so you'd think. But the distressed woman's plea for help went largely unanswered - something made all the more bizarre by the fact that the above scene took place in an Accident and Emergency department. Granted, it was 3 am. Even so, the response of the receptionist seemed jaw droppingly inappropriate.
'Wheelchairs are round the corner,' she said, with a jerk of her head. Like one possessed, the woman grabbed one and yanked it out of the door. Seconds later she reappeared, pushing her gasping husband - who was, fortunately for her, a small man. He was doubled over in the wheelchair, clutching his chest. Alarmed, I waited for the receptionist to press a button, summoning medical staff with equipment.
'What's your postcode?' she asked the woman.
It was too much. Ignoring the embarrassed glances of the three other people unfortunate enough to be sharing this vacuum of human empathy, I strode up to the desk.
'Don't you think you ought to get some medical help while you're taking details?' I said carefully. I was trying for a combination of assertiveness and non confrontation, but it became quickly apparent that I'd failed. My words had the effect of dramatically peeling away the receptionist's mask of impassivity, revealing a tigress defending her cubs.
'Out!' she snarled, waving a finger at me through the glass. I watched, glassy eyed, as it described a perfect arc, backwards and forwards. She was building a defence in the air. A barricade to protect her cherished position. Her claws flexed and her lips drew back as she prepared to do battle against a potential usurper of her power. I backed away, returning to sit with the friend I had brought in with a minor injury. Her venom laden words followed me.
'We know what we're doing!'
I sent up a silent plea that this was indeed so - and applied to the medical staff as well as those working on the admin side.
The man in the wheelchair continued to gasp and clutch his chest. The woman gave her postcode. I watched covertly as the suffering man was pushed towards one of the doors in the A and E corridor, behind which who knew what happened? Good things, one hoped. Just as the woman, helped by the receptionist, who had now reluctantly left her post, (perhaps prompted by my feeble attempts at interference) reached one of the doors, a young man, his shirtsleeves rolled up, emerged from behind another. He wore a stethoscope and an air of mild irritation. Perhaps he had been disturbed by the raised voices. He regarded the chest clutching one. His expression gave nothing away as his eyes flickered over the other participants in the scene. They came to rest on the receptionist.
'Have you checked him in?' he enquired. She nodded. He nodded too and then, presumably having satisfied himself as to the source of the noise which had disturbed him, retreated back behind his door. The distressed woman and her suffering husband disappeared behind another and all was quiet once more.