Gary doesn’t want to open his eyes, let alone get out of bed.
‘Come on, Gaz’ says his girlfriend, pulling the duvet back and slapping his legs. ‘The ambulance are here. It’s embarrassing’
‘I don’t think this is at all right,’ says Angela, his mum. ‘I’m sorry if I’m wasting your time but I’m really worried. I’ve seen him hung over before, and he’s always grumpy. But this is something else.’
‘Grumpy?’ laughs his girlfriend. ‘That ‘ain’t the half of it! Come on, Gaz! Hell-o in there!’
He groans and pulls the duvet back over himself, and falls instantly asleep.
‘This is embarrassing.’
She laughs and leaves the room. ‘Good luck with that!’ she says over her shoulder.
Angela sits on the edge of the bed.
‘This is wrong,’ she says. ‘He was out last night. Got into some trouble or other and ended up banging his head on the pavement. They took him to the hospital, but the first I knew of it he was turning up here in the early hours and going straight to bed. Wouldn’t talk to me or nothing. I only got the story from the police, who came round later to get some details. They said the CCTV showed him taking quite a crack – but anyway, that’s for later. What do you think? Is he going to be all right?’
‘What did the hospital say about the head injury? Did he have any tests or anything?’
‘No. I think he discharged himself.’
Everything about the story is worrying. Gary’s had a lot to drink, taken MDMA, fallen and knocked himself out, discharged himself from hospital before being examined, and now he’s hiding under the duvet, breathing hard, flushed in the face, rousable only with significant pain and sliding back to sleep the instant you leave him alone.
‘He absolutely has to come to hospital,’ we tell Angela. ‘No question. It could be he’s just hungover, but on the other hand we can’t rule out a significant injury to his brain.’
‘Oi!’ she says to Gary, pulling the duvet off him again. ‘You’re going down the hospital. Now.’
He groans and curls up in a foetal position.
‘I can’t,’ he mumbles. ‘My head hurts. Leave me alone.’
‘We’re not going to leave you alone, Gary,’ we tell him. ‘Come on. We’ll let you rest on the ambulance. The sooner you get down the hospital the sooner they can start to make you better.’
‘You’re going’ says Angela. ‘Put these on.’
She throws a pair of jogging bottoms on top of him.
Angela turns him on his back and starts putting the trousers on him herself.
‘Jesus Christ,’ she says, hauling him about. ‘You’re twenty-one, Gary. I thought I’d left all this behind.’
Gary lets himself be dressed. We keep the momentum going by helping him stand and start walking unsteadily to the hallway. We’re relieved we won’t have to think about carrying him out. The house is cluttered, the stairs steep and narrow. Gary is huge, too – over six feet tall, heavily muscled and covered in tattoos – skulls, daggers, names in gothic script.
‘No,’ he moans. ‘I just need to sleep.’
‘You’re going down the hospital,’ says Angela, ‘so just shut it and keep walking.’
Between us all we guide him down the stairs.
I make the blue light ride to hospital as smooth but fast as I can.
Later that afternoon the resus nurse calls me over to a computer screen.
‘Do you want to see the CT of that guy you brought in?’ he says.
Whistling a song by Bastille just under his breath, the nurse casually scrolls up and down through the scanned transverse slices of Gary’s head, the intimate structures and folds rolling in and out of focus, the gyri and sulci, the rooted orbits of Gary’s eyes filling and falling away again like strange, alien blooms. Here! says the nurse, stopping to point out the faint line of a fracture, and Here! the milky white florescence of a bleed.
‘On his way to Neuro as we speak,’ he says.
‘Thank god we didn’t just write it off as a hangover.’
‘Hangover?’ says the nurse, switching off the screen. ‘It’ll take more than a hair o’ that particular dog to make him better.’