The eagle suspended from the hallway ceiling sways as we barge in with all our bags, the tip of one fixed yellow wing brushing the uppermost plastic rose of the plastic bush tacked up along the doorframe. We follow the dead bird’s gaze into the room.
There is a man in a hand-to-knee position of pain on an office chair in the centre of the room. He waves over to us with a fagged left hand, takes advantage of the movement to haul in another litre of smoke, then resumes his vigil. The white of his cigarette is striking, the one clean inch in this ruined space.
At first glance it seems he has modelled his living room on the bridge of a ship. The desk that occupies the centre of the room is a crudely extemporary structure, nailed shelves for a computer, hooks for notes, sections for video tapes, dead electronic components, diaries, letters, a watch. Piled up around the desk, a tidal dump of stuff - dark jigsaws finished and fixed in frames, model trucks, imitation firearms, faux deco lamps, signed photos, metal advertising signs, and rows of videos coded and logged in sequences as foxed and fucked as the originator. He smiles up at us as we come to him.
‘Can you put your fag out, please?’ I say. I don’t want to stink of smoke for the rest of the shift, but as I’m talking, my eyes pick out a broken electric fan on a pile of books. It looks as if the fan has been dipped in a vat of yellow sludge. In fact, the whole room is smeary and indistinct. The grey smoke from the cigarette he crushes out in the brass ashtray is as fresh as I can expect to be tonight.
‘What’s happened, Henry?’
He says that he had his usual plate of fish and chips for tea. He lay on the carpet to have a nap straight after. He woke up feeling fine and resumed his seat, then was hit by a sharp pain in his groin ‘as if I’d sat on one of me nuts’. It was unbearable for about half an hour, so much so that he banged on the wall and called out for help. But it eased off, and now he feels okay.
Rae examines Henry’s abdomen. ‘Does this hurt? Tell me if I’m hurting you.’ She begins sensitively enough, but without any reaction, her pressings become more exaggerated, until she looks like a vet burying her arms in a cow.
‘Nothing. No,’ he says, and looks affectionately down at the smouldering remains of his cigarette.
All his obs are fine, but we tell him that with everything he’s said about the incident, we think it wise he comes with us to hospital.
‘I’ll get my coat and keys then,’ he says, jauntily, and expertly locates these things.
He walks down the four flights of stairs to the ambulance, but outside in the street he folds over. On the vehicle he begs us for pain relief, but as technicians we can only offer gas and air, and this isn’t allowed for abdo pain. He is screaming by the time we reach the hospital. A nurse frowns at me as she comes back into the A&E from coffee break.
‘They’ll sort you out with pain relief in a minute, Henry,’ I say, patting his arm.
‘I’m not – interested – in any – of your – bastard minutes,’ he gasps. ‘I want it now.’
He gets it soon after.