Mr & Mrs Taylor live in a house on a hill served by a system of concrete stairs so complex you’d think you’d blundered into a landscape by Escher. We go up to go down to go up again. None of it makes sense.
‘And I bet he’s upstairs,’ says Rae.
Early morning, last hour of the night shift. A heavy lift will probably kill us.
I ring the bell.
An elderly woman shuffles to the door with her zimmer.
‘Can you come in and help him, please?’ says Mrs Taylor. ‘Only I can’t get him up. I’m not good myself.’
Stan is sitting scrunched up on the floor of the little downstairs bathroom. He fell over when he went to spend a penny at eleven o’clock at night, and he’s been there ever since. But Stan is a heavy man; at least eighteen stone, his torso a great conical lump with a couple of stringy legs hanging from the base.
‘Get me back to my chair’ he says, puffing and blowing.
We have to slide him backwards to give ourselves some room. He yelps and swears.
‘Where’s that hurting?’ I ask him.
But he ignores the question and waves his hands speculatively in the air.
‘Why won’t you put me back in my chair?’
‘Oh, no, don’t put him back in his chair,’ says Mrs Taylor, watching from the sitting room doorway. ‘He’s stuck in that thing all day, all night. He won’t even use the bathroom. He just sits there and wets.’
‘Get me back to my chair,’ says Stan.
‘I can’t cope,’ she carries on. ‘I can’t. He won’t have the doctor in. He won’t take his pills. He won’t use his frame. He just sits and sits and sits. And wets. I think he’s going a bit...’ she taps her forehead with a bony finger. ‘You know.’
‘I’m not going to hospital,’ Stan puffs. ‘Just get me up, will you? What are you waiting for?’
‘You feel hot to me. Are you hot, Stan?’
‘Why are you leaving me on the floor? Why don’t you help me up?’
Rae comes back in with the Mangar inflatable cushion.
‘What’s that?’ says Stan.
‘It’s a device for getting you off the floor. You’re too big for us to just pick you up.’
‘Unfortunately, yes. But this is good. Look. It goes under here – if you could just shuffle backwards a bit...’
He yelps and screams again.
‘What’s up, Stan? Where’s that hurting?’
He grumbles, but doesn’t tell us.
We start to inflate the Mangar. Despite warning him what to expect and what he has to do as the cushions inflate, he reacts to the whole business with the same level of uncoordinated, hoofing panic you might see in a cow being hoisted out of a ditch. With a great deal of counterbalancing and bracing, we manage to inflate all four cushions without Stan falling off, and then help him to stand. He clutches on to the door of the bathroom, his spindly legs buckling.
I fetch a wooden chair in from the sitting room.
‘I took the cushion off,’ says his wife. ‘He’ll just wet it.’
‘I’m not going to hospital’ Stan says, collapsing back into the chair. ‘Why have you put me in this thing?’
‘Because you obviously can’t walk through to the sitting room and I don’t want you falling over again.’
‘Just help me up and I’ll be all right. I’m not going to the hospital.’
‘We can’t very well leave you here like this, Stan. Now – if you can prove to me that you can get yourself up and walk through to the sitting room, fine, I’ll leave you alone. If not, it’s the hospital and no question about it.’
He tries to stand up again, but his legs will not support him. He keeps a grip on to the doorframe, though, and looks at me to see that I’ve understood.
It’s looking increasingly as if we’re going to be stuck here for hours, and we’re off duty in a few minutes. Rae calls Control and asks for a second crew. We’re going to need help lifting Stan up and down those concrete stairs – and then they can take him to hospital whilst we clear up and hurry back to base.
‘They’re sending a reserve crew,’ she says, hanging up.
‘A what?’ says Stan. ‘I’m not going to hospital.’
‘You go with these nice people!’ says his wife, glaring at him from her zimmer frame, as homicidally furious as Davros of the Daleks. ‘You can’t go on like this, Stan. You can’t!’
There’s the sound of boots on the concrete steps outside.
The fight seems to go out of him.
I slap him reassuringly on the shoulder. ‘Don’t worry, Stan. It’s only for a check-up. I reckon you’ve got a little urinary tract infection and it’s making you weaker than normal. You need a thorough-going overhaul. Wash and brush-up ,tuppence. Maybe they can get someone in to look at the house, and see if there’s not stuff that can be done to make it easier for you generally. With any luck they’ll discharge you later today. But you absolutely have to go, Stan, because to be honest – you’re so weak, if I left you now you’d fall over again and then where would you be?’
‘On the floor,’ he says.
A knock on the door. A friendly face.
‘Hello! Who’ve we got here, then?’Stan submits to the carry-chair, and we all struggle outside to the truck.