Thursday, November 24, 2005

A Sort of Miracle

As a devout and God-fearing atheist, I'm not readily susceptible to the mumbo-jumbo and hocus-pocus peddled by priests, parsons and other persons of comparably peculiar persuasions, and although I'll admit to a certain fondness for some sleight of hand and a spot of juggling after a good dinner, it should come as no surprise to learn that I do not care to embrace the notion of the literally miraculous occurrence, preferring to regard myself as one of those logical and perspicacious chaps who's not ashamed to admit, when meaning and understanding are not forthcoming, to a dose of good old-fashioned ignorance. We know full well that God and his repertoire of magic tricks were invented to plug the holes in our scientific knowledge of the world, yet still there are times when the rational explanation must be elbowed aside in favour of divine agency to account for the manifestation of certain events transpiring indisputably, yet otherwise inexplicably, within the bounds of one's sensory experience.

I remember I was just dozing off in my favourite armchair, replete with lunch, an empty teacup at my elbow, my mind immersed in contented recollections of a particularly flavoursome gravy, when the hateful sound of the ringing telephone annihilated in an instant the very memory of tranquillity. Bert Klaxon lifted the bakelite from its cradle and took down the details. A fifty-year-old male had suffered a cardiac arrest while playing squash and his opponent, rather sportingly, was in the process of trying to resuscitate him. Tiresome though this type of thing invariably turns out to be, we could see no way around it and were soon out the door and heading towards the Royal Clapham Racquets Club, Stan and Bert in one van, Albert and I in another, lights ablaze and sirens wailing, racing madly to get there in a most outwardly impressive if completely ironical display of eager philanthropy, the idea in reality being to arrive on scene after the other crew without, of course, appearing to have done so deliberately, so that the more onerous burden of work, in particular the transportation of the corpse, would fall to them rather than to us, a piece of harmless chicanery familiar to all ambulancemen and just another of the many trivial diversions we employ to help us through each working day.

Encumbered by seldom-opened bags of weighty equipment, we ambled at the pace prescribed by Health and Safety guidelines up the classical stone steps and into the grand vaulted foyer of the club, where we were welcomed by a uniformed commissionaire who bore an uncanny resemblance to Piero della Francesca's John the Baptist and who directed us by means of a strangely choreographed mime towards the courts. A blond and willowy individual of dubious affiliation beckoned us with great urgency into Court No. 4 where we found the deceased being attended by a heavily-breathing gentleman who knelt over the prone figure and appeared to be interfering with his clothing in a thoroughly inappropriate manner.

"Okay, that's enough of that." Stan shoved him roughly aside and ripped the dead man's shirt apart as though it were made of damp newspaper, and Bert slapped the pads on to his chest in an angry protest at the pointlessness of it all. Stan punched the lifeless sternum with a tremendous right-hander and the familiar sound of breaking ribs echoed throughout the cavernous court. Albert turned on the defibrillator which flickered for a moment or two and then, in one of those embarrassing scenarios well known to all ambulancemen, the machine died, its battery as lifeless as Lazarus.

"Dominus vobiscum," I intoned with solemn gravitas, hands joined, eyes closed, and gave it a hefty wallop. The machine lit up in wondrous resurrection and without fanfare or preamble launched straight into its somewhat jaded routine, the deadpan mid-atlantic lilt grating on our nerves, offending our refined sensibilities.

"Analyzing heart rhythm. Do not touch the patient. Shock advised. Press to shock." Bert hit the button and the corpse jerked violently. "It is safe to touch the patient. Continue CPR." We went through the motions of resuscitation for the ghoulish entertainment of the small crowd of onlookers, knowing our efforts were futile, none of us with our combined service of more than a hundred years having ever seen a dead man brought back to life; but the public expects it and for some unknown reason we are obliged to indulge their fantasies. After a few minutes of this futile and quite exhausting labour, the machine spoke, granting us a brief but welcome respite.

"Analyzing heart rhythm. Do not touch the patient. Shock advised. Press to shock." Once again the button was pressed and the body convulsed in another spasm. And then, as they say, something very strange happened.

We were all peering with dispassionate professionalism at the screen, muttering considered diagnoses, willing the little black line straighter and flatter, each of us glancing slyly at another's wristwatch, silently calculating how much time was left of the shift, would this job see us off, what was for dinner, should we maybe start making a move soon, when the rhythm altered and the shape of a normal healthy heartbeat appeared before us.

"He's got a sinus!" exclaimed Stan with unprecedented zeal and medical vocabulary. "And look! He's breathing!" And sure enough he was; against incalculable odds the dead man was alive again. He coughed and spluttered and began to stir, and within a minute or so had recovered consciousness. He sat up, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and then spoke.

"What happened?" said the voice from the grave. "What's the score? Whose serve is it? Who are these men? What's going on?"

"It's a blimmin' miracle! A blimmin' miracle!" Stan was exultant, dancing about with all the natural rhythm of a moth in a lampshade, repeating the phrase over and over, laughing incredulously until his distinctive basso profundo bulldozed through into my consciousness and I realised that my post-prandial snooze had been brutally terminated.

"It's a blimmin' miracle! A blimmin' miracle! Nobby's made the tea!"

All present there that day, save the always ebullient Mr. Tablets, were dumbstruck, because it was true, it had really happened. Nobby Harris, for the first time in living memory, or indeed recorded history, had made a pot of tea, which is quite possibly a transgression of a natural law by a deliberate volition of the deity, but not one that obliges me to undergo the spiritual upheaval of a comprehensive theological re-evaluation. Thank God.