Asthma had plagued Leanne's life for the past three years. Now, at only five years old, she was having yet another bad attack and as always, it was at bed time. The local crews know her well. They also know that her parents aren't the panicking type. They only call when they've tried to control everything on their own, but failing to do so always means a trip up to the hospital and an inevitable stay for a day or two.
Her little lungs struggle to cope with the narrowed airways, breathing in all the good stuff, but not breathing out the bad. Her shoulders move up and down with each breath, her stomach moves in and out, her chest muscles hurt with every move. Leanne's face is pale and tired, yet she still tries to force a feeble smile.
We attach the mask with the misting medicine, willing it into her lungs, hoping it will work quicker than we know it really will.
"You know what happens now Leanne, don't you?"
She nods a silent reply, conserving her energy for more important things.
"Good. Who's going to carry you down the stairs this time? It was Daddy last time, wasn't it?"
Again she nods. She looks around the room at the four adults, two parents and two green giants, finally makes her choice, and points.
"Well, I'm honoured!" I say, picking up Leanne as if she were one of my own. I hold her up to my shoulder and we can see eye to eye. Each time she breathes out, a little of the mist blows out the sides of the mask and onto my face, making her laugh a little. A strained giggle at best, but at least it's something.
We double the dose as we settle her on the trolley and get ready to make our way to hospital.
"Now, you know the drill. We're going straight in to see the nurses and doctors, and they might want to do all the tests they did last time. Do you remember?"
Finally, she manages just a single word. "Yes."
"And you know you have to show Mummy and Daddy how you're much braver than they are!"
Each smile from Leanne paints a slightly brighter picture, her face has a little more colour, her shoulders and lungs struggle a little less. Each small effort is rewarded with a small step forward and by the time we've slalomed our way through the early evening traffic, parting the cars with sirens and lights, Leanne is able to say a few words at a time.
Leanne asks me to carry her back out of the ambulance again, but we decide that it might be more fun if she was wheeled in on the trolley. The familiar sliding doors won't open as we approach and she is confused.
"Why don't the magic doors open?"
I show her the numbered keypad and explain. "We need to tell it the password. Only special people are allowed through!"
"Am I special?"
"Of course you are." All four adults said it at the same time, causing Leanne to laugh again.
"Do you think you can you guess the password?"
She thinks for a few seconds and then talks loudly, straight at the keypad.