We are looking for number three of a row of bungalows set back from the road by steel-railed pathways, a discrete enclave of disability amongst the bullish and bullying tower blocks that surround them on this estate. I wonder if they pre-date everything else; they seem so corralled by the pragmatic stack of life here.
There are men standing by cars, chatting, smoking, not sponging down paintwork, shouting at kids on bikes, looking about. One of them makes a gesture to me – do I want him to move? I thank him as I climb out.
There is a strikingly beautiful carer dressed in black t-shirt and jeans standing waiting for us by the front door. She could be waiting for an appointment with a modelling agency, but rather than a portfolio of shots in her arms she has a yellow folder with the patient’s details.
‘Sorry to be calling you quickly,’ she smiles. ‘Sorry I no pick Frank from floor by myself only.’
She moves inside, leaving just enough room for us to squeeze past a mobility scooter the size of a red tank and into a bedroom where Frank is lying on his side on the floor with a garishly coloured fleece thrown over him. His greasy yellow hair sticks up on his head in distinct rows, like corn in a field.
‘Where’ve you been?’ he shouts. ‘Where’ve you been?’
‘Sorry it took us a while to get here, Frank,’ says Frank. ‘My name’s also Frank – and this is Spence.’
‘What do you mean? I’m Frank. What are you playing at? Help me up.’
The carer smiles down at us as we crouch beside him. She mouths what I think is: very difficult person. Her lips are full and dark. She has a smudge of lipstick on her teeth.
‘We’ll get you up in just a second, Frank. We just need to find out what happened, whether you’ve hurt yourself.’
Frank wrests his head off the floor and tries to get a look at us. ‘I’ll sort you jokers out,’ he says.
‘Whoa – don’t be like that, Frank. Just calm down, and tell us how you came to be on the floor’
Frank produces a fist from underneath the fleece. ‘I’ll land this on you,’ he says, his toothless mouth slack with rage.
‘I think he just slipped from bed,’ says the carer. ‘He got little bit blood on side of his head and some on his finger, but I not think his badly hurt.’
‘Get me off the floor, won’t you?’ says Frank, in a more pleading way, pistoning his legs ineffectually, trying to sit up.
We realise we’re not going to be able to keep him still and examine him like this. Frank concedes defeat and says: ‘Okay mate. Let’s have you up then.’
He is so frail and thin, it’s like re-righting a scarecrow that’s been blown over in the wind. We place him on the corner of the bed.
‘Let’s have a look at you then, Frank,’ says Frank.
The first thing that strikes us is his breathing. Now that he’s upright, Frank quietens right down, subdued by the effort of getting air into his lungs. Each in-going breath sounds like something heavy being dragged along a gravel drive.
‘Oof. How long’s Frank had that?’
The carer looks through the notes.
‘Antibiotic for one week chest infection.’
‘Any other medications?’
‘No. Just cream for leg.’
He’s in a poor state. Cellulitis makes both his legs look like two cured hams on the bone; he is emaciated and sallow; his chest hardly moves – all the effort of breathing comes from his withered stomach.
‘I’m not - going to - hospital,’ he growls.
‘Frank. Don’t be like that. We just want what’s best for you – and that, right now, is coming with us to hospital to see a doctor. It might not be for long. But we can’t just leave you here.’
‘Leave – me – alone!’
He retches, and a rope of phlegm snakes out of his mouth and nose. The effort of expulsion racks his frame.
‘Get a chair for us, Spence,’ says Frank, wiping the old man’s face with a wad of kitchen towel the carer gives to him. ‘How could we leave you here like this?’
I go to fetch the carry chair.
‘Excuse me,’ I say to the carer.
‘Scusi,’ she says, busy pulling some information sheets from the folder.
The chair feels only slightly heavier when Frank is loaded onto it. He is so frail, I have no idea why he has such an enormous mobility scooter, but it makes negotiating the hallway quite a problem.
‘That’s a beast, your scooter’ I say to him, but he does not hear above the spitting and crackling of the nebuliser we now have him on.
Outside on the vehicle we run our usual tests. It looks like Frank may have suffered a heart attack this morning, along with everything else. We treat him quickly and set off, alerting the hospital of our arrival.
I wave goodbye to the carer standing over by the front door with her little black shoulder bag and her document folder.
She waves cheerfully back.
Honestly. I feel like I’m on a motorboat leaving a quayside in Monte Carlo.