‘They kept asking me all these stupid questions. I told them I had to see to Mike, he was bleeding, but they wouldn’t listen. They just kept on and on. Is he breathing? Is he this? Is he that? I couldn’t talk to them anymore. I mean, look!’
Mike is slumped on the edge of the bed. There’s blood around his nose and mouth, blood on the towel she’s used to staunch the bleed, blood over his pyjama bottoms, the duvet, and a patch on the floor where he fell.
‘Why did you fall?’ Rae asks him.
‘He’s not well. He’s got cancer of the liver that’s spread, and it’s making him weak.’
‘So what happened?’
‘I don’t know. Mike got out of bed to go to the loo and just pitched forward onto his face. I think he must’ve caught his foot in the rug or something. You can see where he landed.’
She starts crying again, one hand pressed to her face, the other reaching out to pick some strands of hair away from Mike’s face.
‘Were you knocked out, d’you think?’ asks Rae, resting a hand on Mike’s shoulder.
‘What about your neck? Any pain here, where I’m pressing?’
Rae pauses, then squats down in front of him to look into his face.
‘How are you feeling?’ she says.
He mumbles and drools.
‘Give my fingers a squeeze,’ says Rae, taking hold of his hands.
After a moment she stands up.
‘Weak on the right,’ she says. ‘How’s Mike’s speech sound to you, Sheila?’
‘I don’t know. Say something, Mike.’
He mumbles again.
‘No. That’s not right,’ says Sheila. ‘Do you think he’s concussed?’
‘I think he might have had a stroke,’ says Rae. ‘What kind of treatment is Mike getting for the cancer? Is there a care plan?’
‘They said they can’t do anything for him. It’s still early days.’
‘Any Macmillan involvement? Cancer nurses, palliative care team?’
‘Just the doctor for pain relief. Mike doesn’t want to go to hospital.’
Mike lies back on the bed and stares up at the ceiling. He’s wearing a black and white motorcycle t-shirt. Triumph.
‘He’s got blood on that, too,’ says Sheila. ‘He loves his bikes. It’s how we met.’
‘If it is a stroke, we’ll have to act quite quickly,’ says Rae. ‘Every minute counts.’
‘Shall I show you what pills he takes?’ says Sheila. ‘Excuse the nightie. I didn’t have time to get dressed.’
‘I’ll go and get a chair,’ I say.
I follow Sheila downstairs into the front room, where she starts searching through drawers for the medication.
‘It’s here somewhere,’ she says. ‘Do you want to read some of his treatment letters? Where did I put them...?’
‘Anything that comes to hand, but don’t worry too much. Put it in a bag so we’re good to go. I’ll be back in with the chair in a second.’
Sheila straightens and stares at me.
‘He’s not going to hospital, is he? It’s just a nosebleed.’
She stands in the middle of the room, her arms by her sides, her hair wild on her shoulders, the rapid beat of her heart trembling through the silk of her nightie.
‘Sheila? I know this is really hard and upsetting, but we need to be clear. We think Mike fell out of his bed because he’s had a stroke. If he has, the sooner we get him to hospital and scanned, the sooner we can do something about it. If we don’t – worst case scenario – he could die. Sorry to be so blunt, but you need to know.’
‘So, look. I’ll go outside and fetch in our special chair so we can carry him out. Don’t worry about the medication or anything. Just take the next five minutes to put some clothes on and get yourself ready, then we’ll all go to the hospital together. How does that sound?’
She nods, but continues to stand there.
‘Because you know – we need to get going.’
She nods, and starts to cry again.
‘Try not to worry, Sheila. We’ll take good care of him.’
I give her a squeeze on the shoulder in passing, then carry on outside to fetch the chair.
Outside the air is crisp and cold. The early morning sun holds everything in a moment of sharp relief –a vapour trail thinning across the sky, heavy traffic on the top road, people walking quickly in one tidal direction, to work, to school – the activity and business, the community of everything, the life.
The cold on my bare arms feels good.
I take two blankets with the chair and head back inside.
Sheila holds the door.