Reece is lying on his side in the lobby of the homeless shelter.
‘I’m going to fit,’ he says. ‘I’ve been throwing up blood, man.’
There are two support workers standing over him.
‘Reece came down to us today from up-country. Do you want us to make contact with the rough sleepers initiative team there to get more information?’
I tell them not to worry for the moment, and squat down next to Reece.
He’s a slight, wizened figure of anywhere between thirty and fifty, so intensely worn through he must have spent the majority of his life on the road. ‘Don’t take me shoes off, mate, you’ll be sick.’
‘Well we’ll leave them on for the minute, then, Reece. Tell us why you’re lying on the floor?’
‘Mate – my vision’s all to cock. If I look at you, yeah, like straight on, yeah? it’s not too bad, but when I go like that…’ he slants his eyes up to the left, ‘…you go out of focus.’
‘Okay. So why have we been called today, Reece? What’s the problem, exactly?’
‘What’s the problem? How much time’ve you got? My knees are fucked, I’ve got cirrhosis of the liver, hepatitis C, my lungs are shot, yeah? I’ve got bi-polar, acute anxiety disorder, short term memory loss. I’ve got alcohol dependency, substance abuse and alcohol related seizures. And I got attacked yesterday.’
‘What happened when you were attacked yesterday?’
‘This geezer, right, he didn’t like my Spurs tattoo. So he says: “Tottenham’s are well batty, man” and grabs me round the neck. So we had a bit of a tussle, yeah? And I fell over and banged my head.’
‘Were you knocked out?’
‘It’d take more than that to put me out!’
‘So then what happened?’
‘This old lady called me an ambulance, yeah? And they rush me up the hospital. And I was waiting in the waiting room when suddenly I started vomiting blood. Tons of it, yeah? Like a volcano erupting. And they all come running. This doctor, right, he pulls me up and bundles me in the emergency room, and he sticks a big tube down me neck, and gets it all out. Yeah. I was there three days, and then I came down here.’
‘Three days, yeah.’
‘But you said this happened yesterday.’
Reece squints at me.
‘Why’re you being like this?’ he says. ‘Why’re you giving me the three degrees? I’m sick, man. I can’t remember this shit.’
The staff have never met Reece before so they can’t help, either. They certainly don’t want him in the shelter if he’s unwell, so I’m driven to make the offer.
‘Do you want to go to hospital?’
‘Yeah. Yeah, I think I need getting sorted out, man, ‘cos I can’t go on like this.’
He wants to be carried out, and makes a fuss when we encourage him to walk. He goes to grab on to our shoulders, and takes it badly when we guide his hands away.
‘I’m not getting fresh, man. I just need support.’
‘Fine. We’ve got your arms. You’re perfectly safe.’
We make it out to the truck.
The lobby of A&E is as crowded as ever, but it’s a chance to catch up with our colleagues. We chat and joke whilst we keep our various patients happy.
Eventually the triage nurse makes it round to us. She stops at the foot of the bed and shakes her head. Reece looks up.
‘Hey! Are y’all right, sister?’
‘What’s he doing back here?’
‘You’ve met Reece before, then? He said he’d just come down to us today from up country.’
‘He said that yesterday. And the day before.’
‘He’s been in five times in five days. Are you going for some kind of record, Reece?’
‘Record? What’s she on about, record?’
The nurse sighs and starts filling out an admission sheet.
She smiles at me when I show her my form. ‘Don’t worry,’ she says, tapping herself on the chest with her pen. ‘I’ve got it all here, off by heart.’