Mrs Appleton is neatly arranged on her bed, a halo of silver hair on three plump and freshly laundered flowery pillows, legs straight out, arms by her sides. Her husband, a man as pale and soft as a button mushroom, ushers us into the room.
‘I’ve got these pains here – and here – all up here,’ she whispers. ‘I’ve been sick and dizzy with it.’
‘Sick and dizzy,’ echoes Mr Appleton. ‘Shall I get the diary?’
‘The doctors will want to see it,’ she says.
‘Okay, Mrs Appleton,’ Frank says, putting his bag down. ‘What’s been going on?’
‘Let me put you in the picture,’ she says, pushing herself a little further up onto the pillows and then sinking back into them and folding her arms across her chest. ‘In nineteen fifty five....’
‘No, I meant today. What led you to call the ambulance today?’
‘Well I had another episode.’
‘Of the sickness and dizziness?’
‘Any chest pain?’
‘Do you have any chest pain now?’
‘It’s more over this way. And round here. And here, but not so much.’
She hovers one of her hands across her middle, then places it quietly back beside her again.
‘Any shortness of breath?’
‘I’m always short of breath.’
‘Any pins and needles or numbness in your arms or hands or anywhere else?’
‘I do get that from time to time.’
‘How would you describe the pain? Is it a cramping sort of pain? A sharp stabbing thing? An ache?’
‘I couldn’t really say. But it’s there all right. On and off.’
‘And more in your abdomen than your chest, would you say?’
‘What do you mean by abdomen?’
‘I mean around here.’
‘What were you doing when it came on?’
‘Nothing. Just quietly lying here. Waiting for bed.’
Mr Appleton comes back in holding an old school exercise book.
‘Read this,’ he says. ‘It’ll explain everything.’
I briefly open the book. Its pages are stiff, crinkled up with age and the mass of close writing that covers them top to bottom, margin to spine. Diary entries, the first one back in the early seventies, detailing every ache and pain, giddy moment, bowel movement and vomiting episode.
‘There are more, but that’s the most up to date,’ says Mr Appleton. ‘Shall we take it with us?’
‘Yep,’ says Frank. ‘I know the doctors will be keen to see it.’
‘They’re wonderful,’ says Mrs Appleton. ‘Do you know – I called mine up the other day, just to tell him how well I felt.’
Frank raises his eyebrows and nods.
‘Let’s go,’ he says.
Outside in the A&E car park, we lean back against the safety railing like two glum, green birds roosting on a branch.
‘Did you know – of all the health professionals – doctors have the highest rate of alcoholism?’ says Frank, swallowing the last of his coffee, then tipping the dregs out onto the ground. He sighs, then stands to put his cup in the bin. ‘Any bleeding wonder.’