Ted is sitting on the bed in his nightshirt, as poised and watchful as an owl. He’s grown his hair out at the temples, presumably to comb up over his pate; now, it pokes out either side in two large tufts like comedy ears.
‘Have you still got the pain?’
He rubs his breast bone up and down with the knuckles of his right hand.
‘How would you describe the pain, Ted? I know it’s a difficult one – but what’s it like? Sharp, dull, ache? Crushing-type pain? Cramp?’
‘Burning?’ he says.
‘And does it change at all when you take a breath in?’
He takes a breath in.
‘Not really,’ he says, letting his breath out again with a sigh.
We carry on with our checks as his friends watch from the hallway. It’s a strange household. Downstairs, magazine-supplement tidiness, clear, down-lit spaces polished and neatly laid out; and Ted’s room, a chaotic tumble of clothes, books, boxes, with four sections of a vast model railway track, dismantled and leant against a chest of drawers. Assembled, the track would take up the entire room, sixteen square feet of beautifully constructed embankments, bridges, stations and signal boxes. Meticulously detailed figures, suitcases and newspapers, waiting on the platform. I imagine Ted rising up in the centre of it all, a giant signalman with his hand on a bank of switches, a cap on his head.
‘We need to take you down to our ambulance and do some more checks,’ I tell him. ‘But I have to say, before we do anything, we’ll be recommending you come to hospital. Our ECG can give us a good idea of any problems, but you’ll need a blood test for a definitive result. Is that okay? So let’s get everything you need together now and take it with us.’
He nods, and shuffles forwards off the bed. His friends make way on the landing.
‘Any other medical history?’ I ask him as the ambulance splashes on through the night. ‘Operations? Accidents? Hospital admissions?’
He shakes his head. The tufts of hair quiver. Highlighted by the spotlights in the ceiling, they seem finer and more sensitive, two pointy white filaments filtering the air for clues.
I rest the clipboard on my lap and smile at him.
‘I love your model railway,’ I say. ‘It’s amazing. Do you get to lay it out much?’
‘Sometimes. It’s difficult. Ever since I sold the house and moved in with my friends. I don’t have the space I used to.’
‘Pretty impressive, though. Did you make it?’
‘It’s my Dad’s really. We did it together. When he died, I carried it on. It used to be bigger. You know. More trains.’
‘Fantastic! Just looking at the first section – the embankment and everything. All that detail. It looks so real.’
Those comedy ears, trembling.
‘I’ve was in Southview once,’ he says. ‘Sectioned, you know what I mean?’
‘Oh really? When was that?’
He stares at me.
I click my pen and make a note.
‘Last year, okay. And why was that, Ted? Why were you sectioned?’
He stares at me.‘Walking on the tracks,’ he says at last.