Deciduous trees stand barren in the biting breeze, their branches, undefended from the airborne frost, wave a muted welcome as I drive gently down the road. It's a long dual carriageway, leading from one built up area to the next but a large section in between is sparsely built and poorly illuminated. The blue, strobing lights do more to show the way ahead than the dull orange street lamps intended for the purpose. My chances of finding the reported faller were reduced further by the fact that the caller was too vague to give an accurate location, and too much in a hurry to hang around and wait for the ambulance to arrive and show us the particular hedge in question. The only helpful detail they managed to convey was that the patient was wearing a red top.
Driving on roads that were more sheets of ice than tarmac delayed my arrival as I chose safety over speed. The rapid response unit that night would be more response than rapid, a case of better to be late than The Late. Having no exact address meant that I crawled the length of the hedgerows, bright search lights showing up the left side of the car. If I couldn't find the patient on the first run, it was a two mile run until I could turn round, check the other side and come back again. The first northbound trawl was unsuccessful. At the roundabout at the top I came across a lone officer in a police car, advised him of the call, and he joined the search. One of us would search the hedges, whilst the other would look in the central reservation.
We headed southbound, matching speeds and each blocking a lane, we drove with one eye on the road and the other looking out for our prey. During the day our slow march would have caused traffic chaos, but in the dead of night there was only one unlucky driver stuck behind us. Seasonal spirit prevailed and I slowed enough for a gap to open, and the driver, a confused look evident on his face, took his chance and snuck through the temporary opening.
I caught back up and signalled to the policeman to wind down his window.
"Does this count as heading south for the winter?", I yelled across the lanes.
"Doesn't seem to have warmed up much!", he called back and pressed a button next to him. The electric window smoothly wound its way up and cocooned the officer back in the warmth. I quickly followed suit.
The southbound drive was equally as unproductive, and the officer received another call and was forced to abandon the search. I stopped at the side of the road and asked the control room to give the original caller a ring back to try to extract at least a snippet of information that might help me in my search. A couple of minutes later they advised me that the patient was definitely on the northbound carriageway, and near the northern end of it, supposedly lying at the base of a hedge. I didn't really expect them to be lying at the top of it. But the latest update did mean skating the entire length of the ice-rink of a road. Again. Two hundred metres from the end, having almost driven straight past them, I finally found the patient.
As promised, a red top.
As promised, at the bottom of a hedge.
A sleeve and the bottom of what looked from the car to be a thick woolly jumper peered out from the hedge, and I presumed the rest of the patient was hidden in the bushes. I stopped the car by the kerb, still a good fifty metres from the hedge, called out to the patient to "Hang on, I'll be there in a second", and went to grab my kit out the boot. Still talking out loud, I finally approached and prepared for the worst. The temperature was well below freezing, they had been there for at least an hour from the original call, and were wearing nothing more than just a jumper. And just to worry me a little more, they made no attempt to move or call back.
"Merry Christmas!" I grinned as I handed the patient over. "It's the early Christmas present you've always wanted!"