Guy is waiting outside in the garden. As soon as I’m close enough I ask him if he’s the patient. He nods, shifting from side to side, his hands up to his face to gnaw at the corner of his thumb, and then down, and then up again, all the while glancing along the street and shifting from one foot to the other like the film portrait of an anxious man, run through the camera at double speed.
‘Shall we have a chat on the ambulance?’
He almost sprints to the vehicle. Frank just has time to clear the blankets aside and put the back up before he clambers on.
I shut the door quietly.
‘Or would you rather I left it open?’
He nods. I open it again.
‘What’s been happening then, Guy?’
‘My heart started racing and I couldn’t control it. I couldn’t breathe. I got a crackling feeling up and down my arms, my hands – I couldn’t control it. I got tight across here. I thought my head was going to explode. I’ve got these lumps. See? Here – and here. All along here. I went to the chemist and he said I’ve got lymphoma. Do you think I’ve got lymphoma? I looked it up on the internet and I’ve got all the symptoms. Jesus fucking Christ I don’t want cancer. I’m scared – d’you know what I mean? Look. Here – here. I itch all the time. I can’t sleep. I can’t eat. My girlfriend’s stuck in a traffic jam because there’s been a crash. And the chemist said I’ve got lymphoma. Do you even know what that is?’
‘Guy? Just slow your breathing down. Nice and slow, like this – in through your nose – hold it – then out through your mouth. Nice and slow. You’re breathing too fast and that’s what’s giving you the funny feelings in your hands and arms and the tightness in your chest. Do you suffer with anxiety, Guy?’
‘What? What do you mean? Look. Look at these lumps. What are they?’
‘Guy – slow, slow, slow. Your heart rate’s fine. You’re getting plenty of oxygen. What you’re having at the moment is an anxiety attack. You just need to spend a minute or two slowing your breathing down. Okay? Nice and slow.’
‘But what do you think? I looked it up. On the internet. It’s all there – I’ve got all the symptoms. What about these lumps? Here, and here.’
‘Well to be honest Guy I can’t see or feel that there’s much there. I mean it’s a bit red where you’ve been scratching it, but nothing major. Maybe a mild touch of heat rash, but nothing I’d describe as lumps.’
‘But the chemist?’
‘Maybe you misunderstood. I’d be surprised if a chemist came out with a diagnosis of lymphoma over the counter.’
‘So you don’t think I’ve got lymphoma?’
‘I think it’s extremely unlikely, Guy. Have you spoken to your doctor about any of this?’
‘Yesterday. I told her I thought I had cancer.’
‘What did she say?’
‘She changed the subject. She didn’t want to talk about it.’
‘Did she prescribe you anything yesterday?’
‘She gave me something to help me sleep and chill me out.’
‘And have you taken those?’
‘No. She just wants me to leave her alone. She knows I’ve got cancer and she’s too scared to do anything about it. Oh Jesus Christ!’
‘Have you ever had anything like this before, Guy?’
‘What? The lumps?’
‘No. These anxious feelings?’
‘I had a nervous breakdown a couple of years ago. I got sectioned. My mum and dad were killed in a car crash. They never came home. I ended up in a police cell. You won’t take me there, will you? You won’t take me to a police cell? I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t go back there.’
‘We’re not taking you to the police station, Guy. But I think we’d like to take you up the hospital, just to make sure you’re okay and safe, and maybe find you someone to talk to about how you feel.’
The trolley creaks as Guy perpetually changes position, crossing and uncrossing his legs, grabbing on to the little black rails, dropping his head back to stare at the ceiling, jerking back upright again.
‘Just try to slow things down for us, Guy. Nice and slow.’
He gnaws his thumb again and stares at me. Finally he says: ‘I’ve tried ringing them but I get no answer.’
‘Mum and Dad.’
And he looks away from me to the open door.