Thomas sr. sprawls on his side on the mattress that his wife and youngest son have dragged into the lounge, his lumpish head supported on a stack of pillows, and on the crook of an outstretched arm that overhangs the edge.
‘God. Oh God.’ His breathing sounds like sacks of gravel being delivered in a cellar.
‘Will you go to the hospital, Thomas? Thomas – will you go to the hospital? Your levels are low, Thomas. They need taking care of. Thomas? Thomas?’
‘Will you go to the hospital?’
He groans and pitches massively, a bronchitic walrus languishing on a daisy patterned ice flow, tusks and flippers tipped with blue.
We’ve been in the flat for an hour, trying every angle, every point of leverage to persuade Thomas to agree to the trip to hospital, but despite his extremity, his refusal is clear and unequivocal. He had a bad experience at the hospital last year. He won’t be going again.
The pulse ox clip on his finger is redundant. Any fool could read the insidious blue creep up the fingers, the leeching of vitality from the lips and nose and earlobes. He will not have the mask on his face. He will not be doing with the nebuliser. He wants us to go and leave him alone.
‘Thomas. Thomas. Will you go to the hospital? Will you? We’ve called out these good people and you wouldn’t want to be wasting their time now, would you? Thomas?’
‘Will you go to the hospital and get sorted out?’
His wife, a tidily impatient woman with a voice as bright as a band saw, paces backwards and forwards between the kitchenette and the hairy hollow of his ear. Their son, the focus of a dozen framed photographs on the wall – Liam with his guitar, on stage or in a studio, in jeans or a mortar and gown, his fingers and smile always in place – holds his father’s hand, slapping the back of his wrist for emphasis, tugging at the loose flesh of his upper arm as if his very next move will be to drag his father by main force down the stairs and into the ambulance.
‘Don’t be such a stubborn bastard,’ he says. ‘Come on now. If you won’t do it for yourself, do it for Margaret. Do it for Tommy and me. But for God’s sake, Dad, you’ve got to realise. Your oxygen is way down in your boots, your lungs are shot to hell. You’ve got to go with these people and see the doctors. They’ll sort you out no problem. You’ll be back before you know it. So will you go to the hospital, Dad? Dad? Are you listening to me?’
‘Will you go to the hospital?’
Margaret buzzes back to the mattress side.
‘Should I call Tommy, then? Should I get Tommy to the phone? Maybe you’ll listen to him if you won’t listen to us?’
‘Shall I call Tommy?’
Margaret turns to us and hooks her tangled grey and black hair away from her face.
‘Tommy’s the eldest. He’s on a skiing trip at the moment. Oh but by Christ Tommy’d give him hell.’
She turns back to her husband.
‘Thomas? Thomas? Have you heard a word I’ve said, Thomas?’
‘Thomas will you go to the hospital with these people and get your breathing sorted out?’
Liam tugs his father’s arm again.
‘You fucking better go,’ he says.
Margaret gives him a slap on the shoulder and nods in our direction.
‘There’s no call for that now, Liam.’
Rae and I are sitting on the sofa, a stack of kit about our feet – lifting cushions, belts, the resus, drugs and obs bags. All we need is the smallest hesitation, the slightest uncertainty, and we’ll be calling in a second crew to help lift Thomas from the mattress and into a carry chair, down the two flights of stairs and into the back of the ambulance that’s been idling outside the block all this time. Control have made two welfare checks since we’ve been here. Nothing’s moving, nothing’s about to.
‘Thomas,’ says Rae, shifting forward on the sofa and tapping the aerial of the radio on the underside of her chin, as if she were somehow trying to draw exactly the right words to use from the body politic within its range, ‘Thomas – listen to me. You won’t be able to survive on this level of oxygen indefinitely. Something’s got to give, and I’m afraid it’s likely to be your heart.’
Margaret gives a little gasp and puts a hand out onto her son’s shoulder. Liam gives his father another tug on the arm.
‘Will you hear this?’ he says. ‘Will you hear it?’
‘If you don’t come to hospital now, you’re in some danger of having a heart attack. Your heart needs a good supply of oxygen. Without it, it gets tired, and might pack up altogether. You have to understand that by refusing to come with us to hospital you’re putting yourself in danger of a heart attack. Do you understand what I’m saying?’
‘Thomas listen to the paramedic. She knows her job. She says you’ll die of a heart attack if you don’t go to the hospital. Thomas?’
‘Thomas, will go to the hospital? Please? Will you go to the hospital and get your levels sorted out? Thomas?’
‘Will you go to the hospital?’
She stands up straight.
‘You’ve always been such a stubborn bastard.’
‘I know I know. But he has. He’s no different to how he’s always been. Are you, you big old fool.’
She paces back to the kitchenette.
‘Can’t you just take him?’ Liam says for the fifteenth time.
‘If he says no, then I’m afraid we can’t. It’s his decision. I mean – he can’t be thinking all that clearly with his levels this low, but still he seems to understand what’s going on.’
‘Oh he understands all right. Don’t you?’
Liam looks at us both.
‘What do we do now?’
‘We can’t stay here all night. But you can call us back the moment anything changes. And unfortunately, the way things look, that probably means when he goes unconscious and can’t refuse. Then we’ll have him out in no time and down the hospital.’
‘Thanks for coming. I’m really sorry it’s been so difficult.’
We stand to go. I start stacking our bags on to the carry chair.
Margaret comes back in.
‘Thomas,’ she says. ‘Thomas?’
‘Will you go to the hospital and have your levels sorted out? Thomas? Will you go to the hospital?’
Liam helps us with our stuff.
It’s still early in the year, the night has been long and cold, but the sky is appreciably lighter now as the late hour segues into dawn. The stars are bright; a plane glides across the vault of it all like a band of tiny diamonds.
Our relief are in early. We get away on time.
Thomas dies of a heart attack mid-morning. The crew call it on scene.