Jack has so many things wrong with him it’s difficult to know where to start. This morning he’s almost certainly had another TIA.
‘I didn’t want to call you,’ says Iris, his wife. ‘But the doctor was pretty clear.’
‘She’s right,’ I tell her. ‘These things can be the precursor to a stroke.’
‘I know. He’s had one of those already.’
We talk over the options. In the end they decide to go in.
‘Is it busy?’ she says.
‘I’m afraid so.’
She looks crestfallen.
‘We waited so long last time. It’s like we were invisible.’
‘I’m sorry to hear that, Iris. It gets mad there sometimes.’
‘Not to worry. Well. Come on then.’
Jack is comfortable on the way in. With his thick and warty nose, his eyes made tiny by the folds of a wide smile, and his massive hands folded contentedly across his belly, it’s like we’re transporting an ancient humpback whale, inexplicably dressed in a cardigan and cashmere scarf.
‘Sixty-five years,’ he says. ‘Marvellous.’
‘That was a wedding,’ says Iris, leaning in to shout in his ear. ‘Do you remember, darling?’
‘The wedding? We drove down to Somerset in your Dad’s Morris Minor.’
‘That old thing?’
‘It was pouring with rain. Do you remember? You hit that hole in the road and crashed into a tree? I ended up in the cottage hospital with broken ribs, they put you up in the pub.’
Iris settles herself back in the chair.
‘There was this policeman who came along on his bike,’ she tells me. ‘He said he knew exactly what hole it was, because he’d fallen down it the week before.’
‘I had lobster for dinner!’ says Jack. ‘Two and four. I even remember the pub. It had the same name, you see.’
‘What? The Lobster?’
‘You didn’t take it as an omen then?’ I say to Iris. ‘Crashing on your honeymoon?’
‘I don’t believe in omens. Things happen. That’s life. You learn to cope.’
‘It’s a good philosophy.’
She’s quiet for a while.
The ambulance rocks gently from side to side, and the noises of the road and the evening traffic hush around us.
Jack seems to drift off to sleep.
‘I used to be a matron,’ says Iris. ‘You’d think I’d be used to all this, but the last few years have been very hard. Very hard. Jack’s been so unwell. He has a DNAR, by the way.’
‘I have it here if you want to see it?’
‘He had a cardiac arrest last time he was in, but they managed to bring him back. I’m glad they did, of course, but really, he’s got such a lot on his plate, it wouldn’t be fair.’
‘No. I can see that.’
She’s quiet for a moment or two. At one point she leans forward to brush him gently on his arm. He turns to look at her, then settles back and closes his eyes again.
‘No one should have to die twice,’ she says.