Is everyone in this city mad, drunk or a hypochondriac?
We've barely walked through the door when a woman starts yelling at us. "It took you long enough to gerrup here. Three ******* 999 calls. Three ******* calls I made to you lot."
By my watch, we arrived in about eight minutes. Not bad, at this time of day, going from one side of the city to the other. Not good enough, apparently.
It's day five in our real Casualty series and I'm in the thick of it – on the 999 frontline with the paramedics.
We're in a pub full of drunken people, one of whom seems to have been punched unconscious, and yet somehow, we're the bad guys.
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The angry woman comes back for more. This time she puts her big mouth right in my face. Serves me right, I guess, for wearing an East Midlands Ambulance Service (EMAS) fluorescent jacket.
"I'm noravin' a go, but three calls, three ******* calls. Where the **** have you been?"
Rushing a very, very poorly baby into casualty, would be the honest, but not necessarily smart answer.
IN THE FIRING LINE
I'LL SEE a lot of things in my 12-hour, 2pm to 2am shift, with emergency care assistant Max Williams and paramedic Colin Briggs.
I'll see them peel back the bedclothes of a comatose student to find her drenched in gently steaming vomit.
I'll see a woman with a smashed-in face dripping long pendulums of snot, make-up and tears on to the floor of their ambulance.
I'll see a drunk in a corner of A&E quietly weeping into a cardboard bowl full of what looks like his own blood.
None of those things will wrench my stomach quite like the sight of the 13-month-old boy we've just taken in.
He was having a fit and he couldn't even cry. He just writhed about; mute, hollow-eyed and helpless. His dad sat staring at his mobile phone. I don't think he could bear to look at him.
Max thrashed the ambulance through the rush-hour traffic as Colin went to work; running a battery of tests on the baby, scribbling the results on his gloved hand, speaking in bullet points to get as much useful information as he could out of the desolate father.
They probably got the boy to resus in the nick of time.
"He should be all right now," said Colin.
"You have to be careful with fitting cases because it can cause brain damage."
And now, instead of slapping one another on the back for a job well done, they're here: in a grotty Leicester estate boozer, getting shouted at.
I'd like to tell the woman where to go. Max and Colin bite their tongues and shape understanding smiles.
'LOOK AT ME'
IT IS early evening. Tables full of lager-dregged pint pots and dead shot glasses speak of a good time had by all. No-one's having a good time now.
A woman, the shouty woman's sister, we think, is lying in a pool of blood in the ladies' toilet. Someone, perhaps her estranged husband or brother or someone else's brother, has hit her. Or maybe, she's just fallen over. No-one quite seems to know.
Gangs of red-eyed men gather around their pints, scowling over shoulders at likely suspects. Someone's going to get a smack for this.
If they're not careful, it's going to be Max or Colin or Liz Spencer – first on the scene in an East Midlands Ambulance Service fast response vehicle (FRV).
Max periscopes the room and gently pushes his way through to the patient. Colin tries to clear some space for them to work.
A man shouts at a little girl. "Get the **** off out their way, will yer?" The girl, it seems, is the daughter of the collapsed woman in the toilet.
Liz arrived on the scene three minutes ago.
She didn't go in alone because she didn't feel safe. I don't blame her.
Colin later tells me they would have been well within their rights to have called the police and let them restore order before they went in.
Jobs like these are run-of-the-mill for paramedics nowadays. As darkness descends, the radio crackles with calls to "Kilo 13s" for back-up. They're the police, Max explains.
They eventually get the patient into the back of the ambulance. She's a mess.
"Look at me, for God's sake," she sobs, as tangles of snot and blood drip from her smashed-up nose.
Colin tells her they need to know what has happened to make sure she's all right.
Her answers are slow and rambling. She's been in the pub all afternoon, she might have fallen off her high-heels, or she might have been attacked.
"I know exactly how I got this," she says, pointing at her face. "His brother was messing about with my brother. My brother hit him and he hit my brother and…"
"And you got in the way?" offers Liz.
"No… that was yesterday," she answers, not sure. "This was my old man. My ex-husband. I'm not saying owt. Just write down that I fell over. He'll get his, don't you worry. He's up in court next month. They'll lock him up."
Colin tries to persuade her to go to hospital.
She refuses to go. She's got to get home to her kids, she says. Her baby's coming home tonight. That's why she's been in the pub. Celebrating.
We're now five hours into our shift. Only seven hours to go.
THE first job of the day is a "doctor's urgent" who needs to be taken to Leicester General. His name is Eric Lewis, 74, of Glenfield, and he has been passing blood for a couple of days.
"Urgent", in this case, doesn't actually mean life-threateningly urgent, so there's no siren or blue lights.
Colin, 43, delivers a master-class in putting a patient at ease while simultaneously filleting him of important facts that will help the doctors make a swifter diagnosis.
They talk about all sorts: Where they grew up, where they've lived, Eric's dad, who died of a strained heart after the First World War, holidays, you name it – and all the time, apparently effortlessly, Colin makes important medical discoveries.
By the time we get into hospital, we know about Eric's weight loss, his colonoscopy and endoscopy a few years back, and the fact that he has an enlarged prostate.
Not all patients will be so easy to help.
WORSE FOR WEAR
LATER – much, much later, we'll arrive at a student hall of residence.
The patient is unconscious in bed. Max swerves the pools of vomit and sets about trying to wake her up.
The girl's friend thinks she may have taken drugs. Eventually, after much effort on Max's part, they do rouse her.
Colin tries to find out what she's taken. "Nothing," she groans, burrowing deep under her sick-splattered duvet. "Just a couple of glasses of wine".
"We're not the police," says Colin.
"You're not in any trouble, but we need to know what you've had tonight."
"Go a-waaaaay," she sobs, tears streaming down her cheeks, head now dangled over a plastic bowel as her now-empty stomach continues to heave. "I'm all right. Just leave me alone."
That "couple of glasses", it slowly emerges, was a bottle of wine, a bottle of Vodka and some glasses of Malibu.
The girl refuses to go to hospital. They leave after telling her friends to keep an eye on her. "Call us straight away if anything changes," says Max. "That's what we're here for."
GASPING FOR AIR
ANOTHER call takes us to the home of a man who has dialled 999 with chest pains.
The air in his front room is thick and queasy with cannabis smoke. A baby's Winnie the Pooh highchair is strewn with crushed spliff stubs.
"I can't breathe," says the 40-year-old, hugging his chest as he collapses back into his armchair.
Every shallow gasp brings a grimace. He's in agony.
The man, by his own admission, is a chronic alcoholic with a history of pancreatitis.
All the evidence points to another outbreak of that – in all likelihood brought on by an all-day bender.
The man's practically sweating super-strength booze, and yet, even as Max is shaving his chest to attach the ECG heart monitor tabs, he denies having a drink.
"So, you're telling me you've not had any alcohol since Sunday," asks Colin. "You've sat here all day, in that much pain, and you've had nothing stronger than two Paracet-amols?"
The man nods. Colin arches a sceptical eyebrow. They take him to A&E.
COLIN and Max constantly tell patients that they're not there to judge. I am, and I'd like to give some of them a good shake and tell them to stop wasting our time.
More than a fifth of the 999 emergency calls we take today turn out to be nothing of the sort. We arrive at one to be faced by a teething toddler with a bit of a cold.
"You get 18 or 19-year-olds ringing 999 with a headache after they've been out on a bender," says Colin. "Or toothache, as happened recently.
"Then, you get the little old lady who has been short of breath for several days, but she won't have called anybody because she doesn't want to trouble anybody.
"It can be quite heart-rending at times."
There are no easily solutions.
"It's not always a health issue," says Colin. "It can be a social issue, like picking up a young lady who has been kicked out of the house. She could be very emotional or upset. You can't leave that person.
"We often get called to small children lost on the street, or under-age drinkers asleep on benches.
"It's probably not a medical emergency, but you can't just leave them there. They have blurred vision and slurred speech which indicates that they're drunk. Those symptoms are also consistent with a head injury. You can't take a chance with them."
IN GOOD TIME
NHS TARGETS dictate that paramedics have to get to three-quarters of category A, life-threatening emergencies in eight minutes or less.
We beat that time on every blue-light job today. When a young cyclist manages to get himself smeared across the bonnet of a mini-bus we are by his side in about five minutes.
He has hurt his shoulder and his arm, but he will be okay. Whether the same can be said for his bike – left chained to a lamppost as we deliver him to hospital – is another story.
EMAS gets to 79 per cent of Cat A calls on time and it gets crews to 95 per cent of Cat B calls within the allotted 19-minute deadline. It's a hugely impressive performance, given what they're dealing with.
The service uses its massive database of past 999 calls to second-guess where the next emergency will break.
Ambulance cover is moved and shifted accordingly. It's like a big, constantly evolving game of chess – except it never ends.
"We call it loading the bases," says Colin.
I'm not allowed to tell you the whereabouts of these strategic waiting points. The crews might get attacked for drugs.
Every A&E doctor and nurse I speak to is full of admiration for the paramedics. They couldn't do it, they say.
I see what they mean. I'm beginning to think that everyone in Leicester is either mad, drunk or a chronic hypochondriac.
A BRAVE FACE
ANDREW Sparsis isn't any of these things. He has severe abdominal pains. We arrive at his house in Narborough to find him flat on his back on the settee.
Andrew can't afford to be poorly. His daughter Katie gets married in just over a week – and there's nothing going to stop this proud dad being there.
He tries to clamber off the sofa to show Max and Colin he's all right. The pain defeats him.
Colin asks Andrew to put a number on it. Zero is no pain and 10 is the most excruciating agony he could ever imagine. He settles on a five.
"If he says it's a five, then it's a 10. I've never known him like this," says Katie, gnawing away on fingernails she has probably spent weeks trying to grow for the wedding.
Colin gently shoos everyone, apart from Andrew's wife, into the hall so he can ask him a barrage of personal questions about his bowels.
Katie thinks her dad might have appendicitis. Colin's main concern is an aortic aneurysm, which can be fatal. More questions and tests see that danger largely ruled out.
They don't, at this stage, know what's wrong – but it's obviously serious.
Andrew refuses the stretcher, insisting on walking out to the ambulance. His wife goes with him.
"Don't waste your night worrying about me," he tells the kids, ordering them not to go to the hospital. "I'll be fine, home in no time."'
We take it steady, so as not to aggravate whatever may be wrong inside Andrew. Colin gets some pain relief into his system. "Can I have the blue light on, please," asks Andrew, away with the morphine fairies.
Colin tells him he can't. "You've not been good enough," he laughs.
IN A DAY'S WORK
SO, that's a shift with Colin and Max, filled with blood, booze and vomit. I couldn't do their job, but I'm glad they can. I'm glad they care, because you never know when you might be eight minutes away from meeting them yourself – and it really might be a matter of life or death.