Tuesday, September 16, 2014

change

I was chatting to my sister Ellie on the phone. She told me how things were with her, how her husband John was still having problems at work, passed over for promotion in favour of a younger crowd, anxious he was being excluded from the inner management team, maybe they’d be better off emigrating somewhere, the US perhaps? But then, how would that affect the kids? And Ellie’s feeling pressurised at work. A big move would probably do her good. She’s taught for twenty years, but whether it’s because the bureaucracy’s increased, the children are more difficult, she’s less energetic, or all of the above – whatever the reason, something’s got to give.
‘I don’t know’ she says. ‘I should probably do something else. But what? I don’t actively hate my job. I can’t say I love it, either, though. Maybe I could retrain. Be a midwife.’
We mull over the pros and cons. I tell her I’m in the same boat. I want to change jobs, but it’s a tough environment out there. It’s expensive to fund a course independently, and then there are all the stresses jumping ship. You get into a routine. Time passes. It’s easier to stay put.
‘It’s not like I dread going to work’ I tell her. ‘There are plenty of things I like about the ambulance. But working nights is bad for your health, all the heavy lifting. And the constant exposure to social problems. It gets to you after a few years. I was thinking about training as a counsellor, but I don’t know.’
‘It’s definitely an age thing’ she says. ‘It suddenly struck me the other day that a lot of the people we used to look up to are dead now. Do you think that? It’s scary, isn’t it? I get scared. Everyone seems to be dying. Do you worry about it?’
‘Yeah. Now and again.’
‘I mean – what do you think? You must see a lot of it.’
‘I do. A fair bit. But I suppose I’ve got to the point where I differentiate the business of dying with the idea of being dead. Dying is just a physical process like anything else. Pain and suffering, being alone, they’re the things that scare me about dying. But being dead? I think about it now and again. If it makes me scared I try to use that feeling to spur me on to write a bit more, or live a little better. But I don’t know. I’ve no idea.’
We move on to the trickier subject of organising a big family get-together in a few weeks. The politics of who said what and who to, travel arrangements, dogs and trains, can we bring a pasta salad etc. We finalise the date and say goodbye.

* * *

The cohort area in A&E is filling up. It hasn’t reached overflow yet, but that can’t be far off. I’ve been working on the car. There were so many emergency calls outstanding, Control couldn’t spare a truck to transport my patient. Luckily her stroke symptoms had resolved, she was fairly steady on her pins, so I helped her into the front seat and drove her in myself.
There’s no cohort nurse allocated. Crews are having to wait with their patients and there are already long delays. The crew just ahead of me in the cohort area finished their shift ten minutes ago. I’ve still got over an hour left, so I take their patient and set them free. I make sure my patient is comfortable and has everything she needs, then I introduce myself to my new charge.
Mr Rogers seems a little road-worn, a battered old rolator stacked-up behind him on the back of the trolley, along with an assortment of carrier bags and a waterproof coat. In his black suit and collarless shirt, his shoes flapping a bit at the sole, I can imagine him as an itinerant preacher, looking at the chaos around him with his light grey eyes, about to jump to his feet and address the crowd.
‘I’d just checked into the B&B and was going for a walk when the chest pain came on. The spray didn’t help so I ended up calling the ambulance. I’m all right now, though. I don’t know what all the fuss is about.’
I fetch him a cup of water and re-arrange his pillow.
‘You could have a nap,’ I tell him. ‘If you don’t, I will.’
I ask him if he’s visiting the area.
‘Moving,’ he says. ‘I had to leave the council flat I was in, so I’ve come down here to have a look.’
I don’t say anything, but it strikes me as odd – a man in his eighties, poor mobility, heart problems, hitting the road.
‘Sounds pretty tough,’ I say. ‘How are you managing?’
He shrugs.
‘I do what I can’ he says. ‘What else is there?’


Monday, September 15, 2014

entombed

Carter probably had much the same experience, gingerly stepping through the doorway into Tutankhamen’s tomb – except here, instead of a jumble of gilded leopards, ebony cats and intricately decorated canopic jars, there are shelves of dusty video tapes, a sink full of washing-up, and bag after bag of empty bottles. And instead of a mummified king lying over in the corner, there’s Dot.
But actually, if you were to take King Tut, unwrap him, lie him on the floor and stick a fag in his mouth, you wouldn’t be far off.
‘Ooh – hello love!’ she says, ash falling back into her hair. ‘Who’ve we got here?’
Dot’s husband, Ron, waves his stick in his wife’s direction.
‘I couldn’t get her up’ he says. ‘She’s been there since Christmas.’
‘I have not!’ says Dot, then laughs with a noise like a ceiling collapse in an adjoining chamber.
She’s obviously been here a while, though. Incontinent, cold, her skin an awful grey colour. She seems happy though.
‘Do you know where you are?’ I ask her, swapping fingers with the pulse ox; for all the vital signs it’s showing I may as well have clipped it on the hand of that yellowing Cabbage Patch doll.
‘In bed,’ she says, smiling. ‘Thank you.’
‘You’re actually on the floor, Dot. Can you remember how you got there?’
‘How did I get here?’ she says in Ron’s direction.
‘You lay down,’ he says. ‘How d’you think?’
‘Oh.’
‘I’m afraid it’s a trip up the hospital, Dot.’
‘Nah!’ she says. ‘Why would I want to go there? I’d rather just stay in bed.’
‘You’re on the floor, Dot.’
‘Am I?’
‘Can we help you up?’
She laces her withered fingers together over her tummy, shakes her head.
‘I’m fine, thank you’ she says.
‘Are you going to shift her or what?’ says Ron, rapping his stick twice on the ruined carpet.
If Dot feels the petulant vibrations through the ruined carpet she doesn’t show it. She carries on smiling to herself, looking past my shoulder up at the ceiling, at the half dozen flies cutting hieroglyphs in the murky zone between the lampshade and the ceiling.
Rae sets the carry chair up in the only clear space available, next to Ron. We start to excavate a path through the bin bags of wine bottles, which clonk and rattle noisily alarmingly.
‘That’s all you, that is,’ says Dot.
‘So? I like my wine!’ says Ron, thumping his stick on the carpet again, a sigh whistling through the bristles of the great, graven grump of his moustache. ‘Everyone needs a vice.’ 

man down

Terry is lying where he fell sometime in the night, wedged in the corner of the bedroom, his cadaverous arms and legs crooked up like some giant, woebegone crane fly. His only covering is the curtains he pulled down on top of him, hooks, track, plaster and all. Luckily it’s been warm and the radiator stayed off, otherwise he’d have suffered burns to his side. All in all, though, he seems to have escaped any fractures, cuts or scrapes. The carer tells us that Terry’s ninety-two and pretty fit. A little underweight, perhaps, increasingly reliant on the carers first thing in the morning, last thing at night, but other than that, rubbing along pretty well. Unfortunately he’s not been able to throw off a chest infection that’s been bothering him the last few months. He spent some weeks in a home to help him over it, was discharged just the other day. But his situation has deteriorated. And now here he is, stuffed up on the floor in the corner of the bedroom, confused, distressed, his withered buttocks and legs encrusted with faeces.
I fetch a selection of cleaning materials from the ambulance and together we set to cleaning him up. He’s so light I can lift him at the hip on my own, giving Rae and the carer just enough room to make a quick scoop of the worst of the mess, and slide an inco pad underneath so we can get busy with a bowl of soapy water. In fact, I’m tempted to clean him up like I used to clean the girls when they were babies: left hand / ankles; right hand / wipes.
The whole time we’re working, Terry mutters incomprehensibly. We make reassuring noises. None of it connects.
Terry’s daughter, Margaret comes in. A brisk elderly woman with brisk elderly hair, she harrumphs into the room, dumps her bag and keys on the bed, and immediately sets about getting in the way as efficiently as if it the whole thing was scripted.
‘I’ll change that water’ she says. She takes the bowl of suds, misjudging the weight and slopping it everywhere, then comes back with clear cold water and a bar of soap.
‘Thanks’ I say. ‘Watch out for the curtains. They’re quite badly soiled.’
‘Oh’
She dumps them on the floor, right in the middle of the route Rae had cleared for the carry chair.
‘I knew he wasn’t ready to come back,’ she says, wiping globs of faeces from her hands on an old towel then tossing it onto the bed right by my shoulder. ‘I’ve never seen him as bad as this’
Even though the carer has told us a fair bit of information, she’s new to this address and doesn’t know the whole story. Whilst we work, I ask Margaret a few more questions about Terry, to get a clearer picture of what might be wrong – his past medical history, medication regime and so on. It’s impossible to get much sense from her, though. Even a simple question about when he last saw the doctor only acts as a door through which she hurries down another long avenue of stress and complication.
Meanwhile, the carer finds a clean pair of pyjama bottoms.
‘I don’t suppose you have all this written down somewhere, do you?’ I ask Margaret, feeding Terry’s legs through.
‘Why? I’m telling you now!’ she says, then turns away, throwing up her hands in frustration.

Friday, September 12, 2014

TILE

Lily and Geoffrey’s garden is the same, tiny courtyard affair as all the others in this street. You get to it via the kitchen, bathroom extension and a crooked dog-leg of hallway. All this is on the ground floor, below street level. To get to it you have to come down a flight of stairs so steep you need crampons and a coil of rope.
Geoffrey and Lily are both in their late eighties. Lily was out in the garden when her slipper came off, she stumbled and crashed backwards through a rotten pergola of roses. Her hip is obviously fractured.
‘Lily? Listen to me. What we’re going to do is give you some morphine for your pain, a little something to help with feeling sick, and then when that’s started to work we’re going to think about how to get you up to the ambulance. Okay?’
Lily’s husband Geoffrey is standing over her, leaning on a walking stick at a dangerous angle. We want him there for reassurance, but in all other respects – registered blind, as physically precarious as the ruins  of that pergola – he’s another problem to add to the mix.
‘I’ll fetch your dressing gown’ he says. ‘Shall I? Shall I fetch your dressing gown?’
‘Please! Oh! What can I do?’
‘I’ll go and fetch your dressing gown. Just a minute.’
He turns round – would have pitched head first into the dustbins if Rae hadn’t been there to stop him – and then begins a slow and painful shuffle into the kitchen. A few moments later he shuffles back out again.
‘Where is your dressing gown?’ he says.
 Meanwhile we put a blanket roll between Lily’s legs and tie one off against the other for stability. A second crew arrives to help. We use a scoop stretcher and vacuum mattress and strap her up as securely as we can. She panics and keeps grabbing out, almost bringing a shelf of geraniums down on top of us all.
‘Lily? I know this is a horrible thing for you, but it’s very important you try to stay as calm as you can. We’re going to carry you upstairs in a minute, but it’s very steep and we’re going to be turning this way and that. You’re perfectly safe though. We’ve got you strapped up, there’s four of us, and you’re absolutely not going to fall. Okay? You’ve got to help us, Lily. You’ve got to keep your arms inside, and stay as calm as you can. I know it’s difficult, but just try your best.’
We sit Geoffrey on a chair in the kitchen out of the way. Callum, the paramedic from the other crew, has managed to take a panel from the side of the stairs away, giving us a little, crucial room to manoeuvre.
‘Okay? Ready, set, lift.’

There’s an acronym for everything in the ambulance service. The acronym associated with manual handling is T.I.L.E: Task, Individual, Load, Environment. As soon as we start to move Lily, that acronym starts to bend and shake under the stress of it all until the dots between each letter fly apart and the whole, articulated sense flies apart under the strain.
We bend and twist and stoop and stretch. Even though there are four of us, the cramped conditions prevent us from distributing the work load evenly, so at times just two of us are carrying the weight, at unhealthy angles. At one point I find myself at the head end hauling back up the steps with my legs spread apart. It’s an ungainly, improvisational muddle, and Lily calls out and cries through it all. But she’s safe, we make progress, and once we reach the hallway we have a little more room and things ease up.
Outside and the late afternoon air is wonderfully refreshing. We lift her onto the trolley, and wheel her over to the ramp. High fives and back-slaps, slamming doors, like an exultant removal company.
Geoffrey had said he wanted to come with Lily to the hospital, so I go back inside to fetch him. I find him walking up the stairs, and honestly, if you’d asked him to climb the Blackpool Tower it couldn’t have been more of a challenge.
‘Nearly there’ he wheezes.
‘How long have you lived here?’ I ask as I take his hand at the top.
‘Fifty years,’ he says. ‘And I have to say, these stairs don’t get any easier.’

Thursday, September 11, 2014

kindred spirits

The tomatoes in the nursing home garden were glossy and plump. Mr Cranshaw had almost filled his modest Tupperware container, but then either because he overreached himself, or because the weight of all those tomatoes proved too much, he pitched forwards and ended up sprawled on the path. The staff put a pillow under his head and a rug over his shoulders, and then called for us.

Although he is shaken up a fair bit, a little scuffed and bruised here and there, Mr Cranshaw is otherwise unhurt. We help him back to his feet, and then after a pause for him to get his bearings, lead him arm-in-arm back to his room.

It’s one of the nicest rooms I’ve seen. Small but comfortably proportioned, at the far end is a large square window overlooking a garden full of colour and interest. A striped awning has been partially lowered outside the window giving just the right amount of shade from the late afternoon sun without obscuring the view, and in the margin of this shade is an old armchair, the plush a little rubbed, the varnish on the wooden armrests worn a little black – but a loved and comfortable thing, one of those chairs that seems to resonate with the dreams of the occupant it’s absorbed over the years. Opposite the chair is an equally venerable walnut writing desk and Windsor chair, whilst above it, a selection of books and ceramic figures on a half dozen oak shelves. Beneath the shelves, a single bed, neatly made up with a forest green chenille bedspread. And then all around the walls, a display of family photographs that would seem from here to cover every generation and every national drama since the Edwardian era.

‘What a lovely room’ I say to Mr Cranshaw as we help him to his seat by the window.
He nods graciously.
‘Thank you. It was all by chance, of course. It just happened to be available when I came.’
One of the care assistants brings him a cup of tea. He thanks her affectionately.

Amongst the photos on the wall, wearing his black and white stripes with as much savoir faire as any of the uniformed and medalled relatives around him, is a badger.
‘What’s the story?’ I ask.
‘Oh him?’ says Mr Cranshaw. ‘One of the carers was kind enough to take that picture for me. It’s most peculiar. You see, I like to sit in my chair and look out over the garden and think about this and that. And I suppose over the years the animals have come to recognise me to some degree. I have all sorts coming up to me now. Squirrels, birds, foxes – and the badger you see there. He swings by most evenings. He comes up to the window and waits for me to bring him something back from the dining room. And d’you know? If I show the slightest hesitation in opening the window, he raps on the glass with his claw as if to say: Would you mind hurrying up? A chap can’t wait around all day! He’s a curious fellow, in many ways.’
Mr Cranshaw pauses to take a sip of tea, shakily replaces the cup on the saucer again, sniffs deeply, then brushes his moustache dry with the crooked knuckle of his index finger.
‘P’raps he recognises a kindred spirit,’ he says.

the chute

Agnes has been dumped at the plug-end of the bath by the sudden and catastrophic failure of her new hydraulic chair. Maggie, the carer, couldn’t possibly lift her out on her own, so she drained the water, helped Agnes’ straighten her legs as best she could around the taps, then, after covering Agnes with a few towels to keep her warm, called for help.

We try the remote control, but although the seat grinds and clonks, it stays in the down position.
‘Steady on’ says Agnes, looking alarmed.
There’s no room for the inflatable cushions, so we set about lifting her manually.
‘Let’s just move these towels so we can see what’s what,’ I tell Agnes, climbing up onto one side of the bath. Rae climbs up on the other, bracing herself against a strategically placed chair.
‘I don’t mind. We’re all made the same. Well, maybe not you, love, but honestly, I’m past caring.’
We roll up the largest towel and pass it underneath her arms, then, once we’ve helped place her feet as flat as she can get them back on the bottom of the bath, we take up the slack in the beach towel and ready ourselves.
Ready, set – lift!
Agnes paddles backwards with her feet and stands up.
After adjusting our positions, we help her lift her legs over the side of the bath.
Maggie puts a towel on the toilet seat. Agnes sits on it.
‘Blimey O’Reilly’ says Maggie, wrapping Agnes in a dressing gown.
‘I’m not using that thing again,’ says Agnes.
‘God, no. It’s an instrument of bleedin’ torture’ says Maggie.
Rae picks up the remote control and tries the up button again. This time the chair gives an obedient shiver, then begins to rise up with a powerful hydraulic hum. Two hinged wings either side of the seat slide up the enamelled sides of the bath, unfolding flat as the seat comes level with the edge, forming a wide platform.
‘So far, so good.’
‘You see, what’s supposed to happen is - I walk with my zimmer to the side there, then turn and sit on that seat,’ says Agnes. ‘Now see what happens when you lower it.’
‘Here we go’
Rae presses the down arrow. The chair immediately starts to sink, the sides gently folding up again. It reaches about halfway, when suddenly there’s a loud crack and the chair lurches forwards, as violently as a mechanised bucket tossing its cargo into a dumpster.
‘Blimey! Look at that!’
‘You poor thing!’
‘Maybe they sent you the wrong package’ says Rae, putting the remote control back in its holster. ‘Maybe this is for a water park.’ 

Sunday, September 07, 2014

a quick getaway

‘Perfect’
As a finisher, it couldn’t be better. Man, 30. OD. Brother on scene for access.
‘Load n’go’ says Rae, howling through the traffic.
‘Snatch n’ grab’
‘Hump n’dump’
It’s been a busy day. Hot, busy, difficult. Finishing on time has become our only goal, the tape across the road we’re desperate to crash through, collect our winners medal, and be heading home covered in glory and a foil blanket.
‘Here’
Rae parks up outside the block and we both hurry in, past a group of teenage free-runners practising on the forecourt. One of them covers railings, steps, railings in three giant strides, balancing on the last rail with his arms out, before casually stepping off. I’m feeling so energised and focused I’m tempted to join in. How hard could it be?
And so much quicker.
They nod at us as we pass through the main entrance and into the block.

Luckily the door is on the first landing; we won’t have far to walk him out.
I knock.
No-one comes.
I knock again.
Nothing.
We check the address.
I bend down and look through the letterbox – guarded with brushes.
Rae sighs and folds her arms.
Just as I’m about to knock again, the door opens. A young woman, hastily dressed, frowning at me over folded arms.
‘What?’ she says. Then it sinks in we’re ambulance, and she suddenly looks worried.
‘I’m fine’ she says. ‘What’s the matter?’
‘We had a call to someone at this address. A thirty-year-old male?’
Thirty?’ she says. ‘I don’t think so.’
Rae taps me on the shoulder.
‘It’s street, not court’ she says. Then to the woman: ‘Sorry to have bothered you.’
I pick up my bag and we head for the stairs whilst the woman watches us from the doorway.
Rae checks her watch.
‘Still time’ she says.
Back outside, and the free-runners are making one-armed cartwheels over a metal bin.
‘No worries,’ says Rae. ‘It’s only a little way back up the street.’
I feel like cartwheeling all the way there.

*

James is waiting outside the house for us.
‘I waved as you went past but you didn’t see me’ he says.
‘We went to court, not street,’ says Rae. ‘Sorry.’
‘That’s okay,’ says James. ‘Sorry to have called you. He’s just upstairs. I think he really meant it this time. He left a note.’
He hands me a scrappy piece of lined paper torn from a pad. A confusing scrawl in different coloured pens, with a bunch of childlike flowers – circles, stems, leaves – just after the apology and signature.
James leads us up a series of bare boards to the first floor. It’s a narrow, cluttered house, oppressively airless. If I walked further along this landing I’d probably end up crouching as I reached the vanishing point, but as it is, James pushes open a battered door to the right, and shows us into Gerry’s bedroom.
Gerry is naked on the bed, his vast torso swelling like the crest of an unexpectedly steep hill we’re suddenly expected to climb. When I lay hands on him he rears up and starts flailing his arms about. Then he vomits, a noxious fluorescent outflow of tablets and Gatorade. We struggle to get him on his side. We call for back-up.
Control tell us that they have several outstanding emergency calls and can only spare us someone on a car. We know that Gerry is at least a four-man lift, but even that doesn’t address the difficulty of getting him in the chair to begin with.
‘Send a crew on a truck as soon as you can’ I tell Control. ‘We’ll keep you updated.’
Even putting a mask on Gerry is impossible. He wrenches it off his face, rolling around, grabbing sheets, thrashing about – all without making more than a few deep, diaphragmatic grunts. His eyes bulge; I’m sure if he sees us at all we’re simply tormenting creatures in a terrible dream.

The paramedic on the car arrives, followed soon after by another truck.

After a quick conference we decide to get a specialist search and rescue team running. They have the equipment and skills to manage a patient like this: a large, wrap-around vacmat with straps and carrying handles for eight.
‘We’re all on nights,’ says Callum, the paramedic on the car. ‘We’re happy to sit on this one if you want to get away.’
We thank them, collect our kit together and leave.
We pass James in the hallway, looking bleak and thoughtful, his arms folded.
‘Thanks for all you’ve done,’ he says. ‘I’m sorry it’s so difficult. Gerry’s had a few – problems.
We shake his hand and then hurry back out to the truck.
We’re only three-quarters of an hour late.

*

A couple of days later I run into Callum at the hospital. He tells me how the job panned out. How the rescue team arrived in three vehicles, one a massive truck with chunky wheels and a daunting array of lights. They had to call in another specialist team to RSI Gerry as he was too combative to move. Then once he was chilled out they had to pretty well dismantle the house to get the angles they needed to manoeuvre him down the stairs.
He hands me his phone, some pictures he took of the scene in the road outside, all the vehicles lined up, even a police car for crowd control.
‘I tell you what – it was a major incident’ he says, looking over my shoulder as I scroll through. ‘It  looked like the end of the world. It’s a good job you got away when you did. We were there a couple of hours or more.’
I hand the phone back to Callum. Nowhere in any of the pictures could I make out Gerry’s brother, but I had a sudden, strong image of him, standing discretely somewhere, the other side of the police tape, perhaps, his arms folded, watching the scene.
‘Were you very late?’ says Callum.
I shake my head.
‘Nope. Well – forty-five minutes. The way it panned out, we were happy with that.’

Friday, September 05, 2014

little things

Marjorie is ninety and feeling it. Her daughter Chloe took her to the doctor’s to see about her legs, which have become more swollen and painful. The doctor did an ECG, called an ambulance, wrote a letter. We wheel Marjorie out in our chair. She’s so light and tiny it’s like kidnapping ET.
‘I should wave, like the queen’ she says, as we pass through the waiting room.
‘Don’t. You might get used to it,’ says Chloe.

*

Marjorie is as comfortable as we can make her on our trolley, padded with blankets and everything arranged around her just so. It’s half an hour to the hospital; there’s not much else to do now but let Marjorie rest and keep an eye on things.
‘I must look a mess’ says Chloe. ‘I didn’t think we’d be going anywhere else. Look at me! I’ve got dog hairs all over my trousers.’
‘Don’t mind me,’ I tell her. ‘I’m just as bad.’
‘Good job I fed the chickens before I came out.’
‘Oh? How many chickens do you have?’
‘Four. Good layers – well, they were, till they got the red mite. Tiny little things they are, no bigger than a grain of salt, but they get their fangs in and drive the chickens crazy. It’s put them right off their stroke.’
‘What can you do about it? Dust the chickens?’
‘Not really. You put this stuff in the water and you treat the coop. It’s the weather, you see. The mites have gone mad this year.’
‘It must be nice to have fresh eggs, though.’
‘You wouldn’t go back to supermarket eggs if you tasted ours. It’s a completely different experience. Out of this world.’
‘What about the meat? I bet fresh chicken meat tastes good.’
Chloe frowns at me.
‘No,’ she says. ‘Just the eggs. Would you kill something called Claudine?’

*

We pull into the A&E car park. Marjorie seems to perk up a bit, arranging the blanket over her lap and then sweeping her hair into position.
‘I look a mess,’ she says.
‘What about me!’ says Chloe. ‘I’m an absolute shocker.’
We unload the trolley and move into the department.
‘At least you’ve got a bit more colour in your cheeks now’ says Chloe.
‘It’s all these hunky men around me,’ says Marjorie.
‘Oh?’ I say, looking right and left. ‘Where?’
‘You,’ says Marjorie. ‘And you’re about my height, na’ll.’


Wednesday, September 03, 2014

yet more bears

Nigel is resigned to his chest pain.
‘Hardly headline news’ he says. ‘I’ve had more work than the M1. Even my stents have got stents. Just a minute...’
He wanders round his flat looking for his wallet.
‘Are you sure we can’t get you a chair, Nigel?’
‘You’re very kind, but I’d much rather walk. Have you seen how small the lift is? We’ll barely fit in as it is.’
He’s right. It’s a lovely, art-deco block, but whether people were thinner back in the Thirties or whether design took precedence over utility it’s hard to say – certainly, the lift is a tiny hardwood box that takes two at a pinch and three if they’re extremely good friends.
‘Here it is!’ he says, waving a battered leather object in the air and then stuffing it in his pocket. ‘Now then. What else?’
‘Phone, keys, the meds we’ve got. A coat for later. I think you can safely leave Winnie, though.’
I nod at the plump, fairground prize cuddly toy at the foot of Nigel’s bed.
‘Ah! You like bears?’ he says. ‘Follow me!’
He gives me a conspiratorial wink and shuffles out of the room. I follow him down a narrow corridor whose walls are crowded with framed photos, pictures, prints, African masks, battered hats – into another room so utterly dark I can’t make out a thing.
‘Stay there!’ he says. ‘I have to use the standard lamp over here. I know where everything is so I’m okay, but if you try to follow me you’ll trip up for sure. Ah! There we are!’
Suddenly illuminated, a room filled with antique furniture, ceramics, paintings. And in pride of place, a chaise longue absolutely covered with bears in various states of decay. Some are dressed in naval outfits, some in mortar board and gown, but mostly a collection of friendly, tatty, tarnished old bears, carefully arranged in four rows, all looking in my direction.
‘Wow! Hello!’ I say, as much to the bears as to Nigel. ‘I’ve actually got a little bit of stage fright.’
‘You like them?’
‘I love them.’
‘It’s my life’s work. Every one with a story. I thought you’d approve. You look like a bear man.’
‘I’ll take that as a compliment.’
I go up to the chaise longue and start shaking each bear by the paw like a cheesy celeb working the crowd.
‘Hi. How are you? Good to see you! Thanks for coming out. Hey – the navy’s in town. Yeah! Looking good, growly. Love what you’ve done with the ears...’
Nigel laughs and slaps me on the shoulder.
‘You’re as daft as me,’ he says, righting a small bear that’s slumped over to the side. ‘There, now! Shall we go?’
He turns off the light.
‘Goodnight bears,’ he says as he closes the door.
He puts his arm through mine, and we both head down to the ambulance.