The cohort area is so crowded with people and trolleys and relatives and ambulance personnel, moving a patient anywhere is like moving squares in a cheap plastic puzzle – one space at a time, sideways, backwards, this piece then this – until you reach the other side, or make the picture, which in this case would be a simple, black & white word: Failing. But even though it’s difficult, everyone is keen to do what they can to let Arnold through. His sudden bursts of wild laughter, screams and incoherent singing have only heightened the End of Days atmosphere in the department. When conditions are as bad as they are, a little peace is worth almost as much as a chair, or a cup of water.
Poor Arnold has vascular dementia. Normally his carer says he’s pretty calm, but since a fall a few days ago his behaviour has become more erratic. The GP referred him in for a CT scan.
‘Mind your backs,’ I call as we negotiate the final hurdle and make the clear water of the corridor that leads to the CT suite. ‘Coming through!’
Arnold starts singing again, a gummy, open-throated bellowing, making panicked sweeps with his arms, like a conductor leading an orchestra in hell.
‘He’s a musician’ says the carer, soothing Arnold’s hands down as we negotiate another narrow gap. ‘Who knows what’s playing in his head?’
In contrast to the sweated atmosphere of the cohort area, the CT suite is cool and quiet.
‘I love this air con!’ I tell the radiographer.
‘You wouldn’t if you worked here all the time,’ she says, as we manoeuvre Arnold into position. ‘Five minutes and you’ll be snapping icicles off your nose.’
She smiles at Arnold as he starts waving his arms about and singing.
‘He’s a musician’ the carer says to her, easing his hands down again.
‘Is he? How interesting!’ says the radiographer, producing a couple of wide, Velcro straps. ‘Sorry Maestro. Just for the scan.’
She adjusts a grid of bright red lines over his head, and then with everything set, leads us into the control room. We stand behind her and watch as she operates the scanner, scrolling through section views of Arnold’s brain.
‘Ah-ha!’ she says, tapping the keys.
‘What have you found?’
‘It’ll need a consultant, of course. But just there – look.’
‘No. Crotchets and quavers.’
She laughs, shakes her head, and stands up again.‘Come on!’ she says. ‘Let’s get poor Arnold out of the fridge.’