Charlie’s sister Christine lets us in.
‘You don’t mind Coco, do you?’
Coco is an old, soot-brown Cairn terrier who looks like she scurried down the chimney when she heard the doorbell.
‘All bark and no bite, thankfully. Charlie’s still in bed.’
Coco frowns and huffs then retreats back into the sitting room as Christine takes us upstairs.
‘He’s been having a rough time,’ she says. ‘Four hospital trips this year with vomiting. Sometimes they give him drugs, sometimes they put him on a drip. Nothing seems to stop it coming back though. I know he gets worked up with everything, but still, it’d be nice to have the whole thing sorted. I can’t have him stay with us much longer. He’s upsetting the kids.’
She pushes open the bedroom door, shouts: ‘It’s the ambulance, Charlie. Be nice.’ Then stands aside.
A cramped, child’s bedroom. Charlie is lying on the top bunk of a bed covered with stickers. Facing us as we go in, amongst the general clutter of toys that spill in an unstoppable mess from two open cupboards, standing proudly on its own on a low table, is a model of K9, the robot dog from Doctor Who.
‘Hello Charlie. Can you pull the cover back so we can talk to you?’
A muffled reply.
‘Charlie? It’s the ambulance. We just want to talk to you and see if we can help.’
‘I don’t want no fuckin’ help. I want this fuckin’ pain to go away. Make it stop! Please, please make it stop!’
‘We’ll do what we can, Charlie. But first things first. Can you pull the duvet down so we can talk to you?’
Suddenly the cover launches into the air as Charlie thrashes his arms and legs, whilst at the same time he screams out: I don’t fuckin’ want this! I can’t... I want my life back, man.... I want my life back.
‘Charlie? We’re here to help, but you’ve got to do your bit, too. You’ve got to stay nice and calm so we can figure out the best thing to do. All right?’
He slaps his head and kicks his legs, but at least he’s pointing in our direction now so we can get a look at him.
A man in his early thirties, his face has a scooped and waxy look, sharp cheekbones, and large, papery eyes. After a moment he starts thrashing his head from side to side, moaning and baring his teeth. The next moment, he’s sitting up, hunched over to the side, and started jabbing the fingers of his right hand down his throat. It’s not a gentle movement – more like someone furiously trying to unblock a drain. He makes such monstrous growls as he does it, I half expect K9 to swivel its head and shoot him.
‘Don’t make yourself sick like that, Charlie. You’ll just hurt your throat. You’ll make it infected and that’ll only add to your woes.’
‘I don’t fucking care. I just want it out of me.’
‘Want what out of you?’
But then suddenly he relaxes, and flops back down on the bed.
‘I’m sorry, sir,’ he says. ‘I’m really, really sorry.’
The change in him – and the oddly deferential tone – puts us even more on our guard.
After a pause, I ask him what his past medical history is.
It jump starts his fury again.
‘Aaargh! You know all this! Why do you keep asking me? Just take me to hospital and make me better. Fuck’sake!’
‘I’m sorry we have to ask you these questions, Charlie, but obviously we’ve never met you before and we don’t know the story. It’s like I said at the beginning, if you could do your best to stay calm, it’d really help us get you the treatment you need.’
‘I’m sorry, sir. Sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you,’ he says, instantly deflating. Then moans, rolls over, and buries himself in the quilt.
We go back outside to talk to Christine.
She’s in the bathroom, hanging out a trug of wet washing on a dryer.
‘So what’s the story with Charlie?’ I ask, handing over a sock she’d dropped on the landing.
She takes it from me with a tired kind of smile, drapes it over the dryer, then begins pulling the arms of a child’s pyjama top right side out.
‘He’s under a lot of stress,’ she says. ‘He fell out with his cousin and lost his job. Then he’s been looking after his own two kids in the holidays, and there were some issues there. He lives up north but came down to look for work, only he’s been having all this vomiting and stomach cramps, and it’s all getting out of hand. The doctors don’t know what’s going on. They’ve given him pain killers, stomach antacids and even some stuff to chill him out, but none of it’s helping. I can’t cope with him here, not with kids in the house.’
We tell her that we’ll take Charlie to hospital for another review, then go back to the bedroom to help get him ready.
‘I can fuckin’ dress myself!’ he screams. ‘Wait outside!’
And we hear him crashing around, swearing and cursing and crying, trying to find his boots.‘Charlie – they’re here, where you left them!’ says Christine coming and putting them outside the door. Then she shakes her head, and goes back to the bathroom to hang out the rest of the washing.