‘So you were in the navy then, Reg?’
‘National Service on a survey ship. Loved it.’
He straightens in the chair we have helped him up into, then sags into a slump.
‘I feel so damned stupid.’
He has an impressive old sea dog’s silvery mane, but the rest of his body is giving out on him. From the tops of his calves down to his feet, the flesh is dark and leathery with dermatitis; it’s like a rising tide line of incapacity. He doesn’t get about like he used to.
It is two o’clock in the morning and we found him on his knees by the side of the bed, unable to get up. His wife had called the ambulance. She tells us that Reg has been averaging a fall a week for a little while now, but the Falls Assessment team have been round and done what they can.
Reg rubs his knees and gives a wide, leonine yawn whilst I take his blood pressure, temperature, the usual checks.
‘Seen my certificates, lads?’
His wife is rubbing her eyes to stay awake, but she brightens and points to one of them, an impressively cursive document with a photograph alongside it.
‘Wasn’t he cute?’ she says.
‘So – can you remember falling out of bed, Reg?’
‘No. I have no memory of it whatsoever. I woke up, and I was on my knees. I must have simply rolled out.’
There are bars along his side of the bed, but it is possible that he had slipped down before rolling. He does not have any new injuries or symptoms. It is a simple falling out of bed.
‘Maybe you had a dream you were manning the lifeboats,’ Jack says. ‘Hard to starboard!’
We all laugh. I finish the paperwork, and then we help Reg back into bed and tuck the yellowing quilt around him. He curls both hands up around the top edge of the quilt, and then shuts his eyes.
‘Full steam ahead!’
Reg’s wife thanks us for coming and walks us to the door. Outside the purple morning air is icy, and she clutches her dressing gown to her.
‘Bye now. Thank you very much. Don’t take this the wrong way, but I hope I don’t see you again soon.’
An hour later we are standing outside a pizza place, with what looks like gouts of tomato puree on the pavement and a cyclone of spite circling around us. Without this significant police presence, I would be in the cab and away, but as it is, we identify the two patients and get them onto the ambulance to assess them.
Pencil stub outlines: two whippet thin white guys in their late teens, number one in a white shirt and cheap satin waistcoat, the left side of his face bulging out to the side and a gash in the middle of his forehead that trails blood down over his face and front; number two, dressed in a spivvy black suit, holding his right arm and grinding his teeth. The mother of number two comes onto the vehicle as well. Where she has appeared from I have no idea – and never find out. She is a raddled version of her son, but with longer hair and nails.
More shocking by far than the boys’ injuries is their intense anger. In the same way that a flame will burn what and whoever comes within range, these two arc with violence. Their words are so fierce that it’s as if we and the police have to snap down welding masks to filter out the invective, to see any useful information that might be behind it.
‘So what’s happened to you?’
Filtered view of 1: ‘We had a fight with an Asian gang. They attacked us with baseball bats.’ He licks the blood from his front teeth, then carries on: ‘You can’t hold me. I haven’t done anything wrong. I don’t have to be here. I know my rights. I can walk if I want to.’
Police: ‘Moderate your language, please. We will certainly nick you for affray and breach of the peace if you don’t.’
Ambulance: ‘Look. Let’s try and sort out what’s happened to you. We need to clean you up a bit and see if you need to go to hospital.’
Filtered view of 1: ‘Go away. Leave me alone.’
Filtered view of 2: ‘Let’s go and burn down their house.’
When the policeman in the doorway tells him to be very careful not to swear at us and make threats, or face being nicked, number two bares his bloody teeth and spits his words out through them:
Filtered view of 2: ‘You’re enjoying this, aren’t you? Look at you. Go on, lap it up.’
But then, weirdly, he starts crying, doubling over and letting out a ghastly mewl like an injured puppy.
The mother tells her son to stop swearing at everyone.
Filtered view of mother: ‘They’re only doing their job. They think you should go to hospital. So go to hospital.’
At this point I would be happier if they didn’t go to hospital. I can’t imagine that they will be able to submit to treatment for longer than a minute without being thrown out by security. But they seem now to want to go. A policeman nods to me from outside the vehicle; I jump down to speak to him.
‘I’ll ride in the front with you, if that’s okay,’ he says. ‘I don’t want to make the situation worse. There’ll be a squad car following. If that’s okay with your colleague of course.’
Jack is hanging out of the door. He looks down at us and nods. We were talking about his surname earlier – how unusual it is, the Scandinavian derivation. He looks at me and smiles like I imagine a vast Viking champion would smile, strapping on an axe. ‘I’m fine with that,’ he says. I slam the doors shut and drive to A&E.
When we get there, I lead the three of them in through the main doors.
Filtered view of 1: ‘Where’s the hospital then? You said we were going to the hospital.’
Me: ‘We are there. This is the hospital - this big building in front of you. Let’s go in and talk to the nurses. But I have to tell you – if you carry on talking like this you will get thrown out.’
Filtered view of 1: ‘I don’t want to see any nurse. I don’t have to. You can’t make me.’
Filtered view of 2: ‘My arm hurts. I want to go home and kill those Asian gang members.’
Me: ‘You are in the hospital now, so you have to moderate your language. If you carry on talking like this, you won’t get seen. And I think you probably need to be seen.’
Filtered view of 1: ‘What do you know? You didn’t do anything. You’re just a taxi man.’
Me: ‘We need to wait just here whilst my colleague goes and talks to the Charge Nurse. Have a seat.’
Jack walks off to the nurse’s station. Another crew is preparing their trolley nearby. I have a discrete word with them to watch themselves, and they make some space. The police hover in the background.
Filtered view of 2: ‘We are seriously going to inflict damage on that crew.’
Policeman: ‘This is your last warning. If you continue to talk in this way you will be nicked.’
The Charge Nurse comes over.
‘What’s happened here, then?’, she says, with a bright, professional smile. ‘You first. Tell me what’s happened to you tonight?’
Unfiltered view of 1: ‘Well what the fuck do you think has happened to me tonight? You’re the cunt with the answers. Do something. Stupid.’
She turns briskly and says: ‘Throw them out.’
The police wade in and drag them all away.