Reece is one of the few people who’ve been on the bariatric training course, so he knows how to handle the chair. He unclips it from the charger, makes some adjustments, unfolds the seat, then quickly runs through some of the features. It’s an amazing piece of engineering. Tough, adaptable. It even has a mechanism for propelling the chair backwards up stairs.
‘What do you think?’
In fact, the last piece of kit that impressed me quite as much was the robotic forklift suit Sigourney Weaver operated in Aliens.
But it needs to be. The patient we’ve come to transport weighs thirty stone.
There are four of us. Reece and his crew-mate had fetched the bariatric truck and driven across two counties to rendezvous with us here. We went in together with the special chair, leaving the bariatric trolley set up down in the lobby because the lift was only big enough for six people.
Sheila’s door swings aside automatically. Everything about the place is super-sized, the furniture, the cushions and grab rails, even the WWF wrestlers on the plasma screen, parading and flexing their steroidal figures, roaring in hyper-coloured violence as the door closes behind us and we walk in.
Sheila is opposite the screen, contained by a gigantic chair, catheterised, padded, remote controlled, sweet jarred and diet coked, everything to hand.
‘I don’t know how you’re going to move me,’ she wheezes, muting the wrestlers.
In all honestly, neither do we.
But after some initial discussion and exploratory examinations, clambering around her like drones around a queen, we set to work. Using Sheila’s gigantic zimmer frame and the tilt mechanism on her armchair, we help her to stand and turn just enough to get the chair in position. Every movement is slow and teetering, everything at its limit – bones, organs, spot-welded aluminium. And suddenly the chair doesn’t seem quite so all-conquering. The seatbelt that had looked so generous downstairs strains to go round Sheila’s belly; the straps to keep her legs in place are half a metre short. We address these problems as best we can, working round the vast folds of her corrupted flesh, cellulitic, multi-coloured green, brown and red, crusted, scabbed like the skin on a diseased whale.
In all honesty, the ocean is the only place Sheila could be comfortable now. Instead of the hospital we should be taking her for surgery at the aquarium, where they could fashion a blow-hole then float her out to sea for rehab. Because here in this room, landed like this, undiluted gravity is just too heavy.
‘Give – me – a – minute. Wait – a minute.’
All we can do is stand close-by at four points and stop her from falling.
Down in the lobby it’s the same problem. But even though Sheila is very unwell, she manages to do the minimum to rise from the chair, turn, and roll back onto the trolley. Once she’s on, we lower the back, slide her into a better position, wrap her up. It takes all four of us to tow her out to the truck.
* * *
There’s a team of nurses waiting for us at the hospital, gathered round a special bed-cum-chair, with bars and grab-rails and automated plates to make the transfer easier.
Once she’s safely over, we take our kit and head back to the truck.
‘She was big,’ says Reece, putting the chair back on charge. ‘But anyway – hey? – what d’you think?’‘Amazing,’ I tell him. ‘Brilliant bit of kit.’