Bill is twenty-one stone. Even his beard looks heavy. He is sitting on the floor of his narrow hallway, wedged like an elephant in a box, with one of his vast, bandaged legs bent underneath him. He can’t get up.
‘Can you be quick, boys? I’m getting pressure sores on my arse.’
I go back to the vehicle to fetch the mangar – an inflatable lifting aid, its stack of four cushions designed to gradually raise the patient up to a standing position, or at least to a height where we can help them transfer to a chair. I also grab the manual handling bag, full of straps, sliding sheets and other stuff that we might need in this case.
Back in the overheated flat, Frank has managed to free up Bill’s bent leg, and untangle the catheter and bag.
‘You wouldn’t want that to burst,’ he says. It certainly is full. Frank finds a jug from the bathroom and empties the noxious brown fluid into it whilst I start unpacking all the kit.
‘It’s my own stupid fault for getting up to go for a shit,’ Bill says amiably, to fill the time. ‘Pardon my French. I don’t go that often. Once every five days or so. But when I go – well, it’s like the world falling out of my arse. The Old World. Gondwana. Dinosaurs, volcanoes and all.’
We stand discussing the best way of getting him up. Like so many of the jobs we go to, it’s an exercise in improvisation. Bill tells us that he can’t rock from side to side and shuffle himself backwards onto the mangar, so we decide to get the sliding sheet underneath him, and then use that to drag him onto the cushions.
‘So I had an unenviable choice to make. Either lay in bed and shit myself, or try to make it to the loo.’ He thinks about this as we grunt and sweat trying to get the sliding sheet into position. ‘The other thing that crossed my mind was – I might get halfway, collapse in the corridor, and then shit myself.’
The sheet is in place. We agree that this option was probably the cleanest, if not the easiest.
We step over Bill and each other and fumble around for hand grips, and then one, two, three – haul him back onto the cushions.
‘There she blows,’ he says. I plug in the air hoses to the four cushions, and when Frank has himself in a position where he can stabilise Bill, I start inflating. He rises up.
‘It’s a miracle!’, he says, ‘A levitating saint! God, that’s easier on my arse.’
The cushions reach their maximum height and the job is looking more manageable. Bill says he doesn’t feel confident about standing up and walking just yet, but he doesn’t want to go back to bed, either. He says he wants to go into the front room and sit at his computer. He says the best way to do this would be to bring his office chair through. He can transfer onto that, and we can wheel him in.
When we get him into the office chair, it bends precariously.
‘Are you sure this is a good idea, mate?’, says Frank. ‘I don’t think this chair was ever designed to cope with – er – loads like this.’
‘Are you saying I’m fat?’, he says with mock indignance. ‘Well of course I’m fat. I’m a rotten old tub. But there you are. Things are what they are. Wheel me in, then. Mush!’
We pull and push the chair, which creaks alarmingly but holds. In a minute or two, he is in position before a well-ordered computer desk. I go back into the hallway to pack away the equipment. When I re-join them in the front room, Frank is completing the paperwork and Bill is telling him about his life.
‘I used to teach the trumpet. Played in bands, taught, travelled the world. But age and this fucking arthritis took over and gradually, gradually…’ he holds up his right hand, whose fingers are quite grossly deformed. He wiggles them a little, then puts his hand back on his lap. ‘I had a beautiful instrument. Made in 1911. Worth quite a bit. The last time I played it was May the eleventh, nineteen ninety six. Four o’clock in the afternoon. Then I put it in its case and gave it to a good friend of mine. Because an instrument like that was built to be played, not just dusted off now and again.’
Frank gets a signature on the form and we stand to leave.
‘Thank you gentlemen,’ he says, ‘I know you’re busy. I hope I shan’t be needing you again.’