Sunday, November 28, 2010


Midnight, and the moon rides low above us, trawling the world for heat. We smack and rub our hands, scan the cottage with a flashlight. Frank raps the knocker, and the sound echoes along the black lane.
A moment, and the door opens.
‘Thank you so much for coming,’ says Edward, stepping aside and ushering us forward. ‘Come in. Come in. You’ll catch your death out there.’
He turns and we follow him into a cosily lit kitchen diner. The ancient brick fireplace in the far wall arches over a wood burning stove, where a bright heap of logs blazes and snaps. Around it, pinned across the exposed brickwork, lithocuts of dogs leaping through winter scenes; watercolours of elm trees, wheat fields and crows; and family photos, children and adults, separate, together, their forms and colours merging, ghosting beyond the glass.
‘It certainly is bitter tonight,’ he says, settling back into his chair. There is a cup of cocoa on the oak side table, a pair of bifocals, and a book of poetry by Seamus Heaney face down beside it.
‘Brass monkey sends his apologies,’ says Frank.
‘So what’s been happening tonight, Edward?’ I say, squatting down beside his chair.
‘Well I started feeling this pain in my chest,’ he says, describing a little circle with his index finger in the middle of his jersey. ‘I got a bit worried and phoned the out of hours doctor, and he said he was going to pass it on to the ambulance, because he thought it was just possible I might be having a heart attack. I don’t think I am, though. Do you?’
‘I don’t know. Have you got the pain now?’
‘No. Sod’s law, of course. Almost as soon as I hung up, it seemed to go.’
‘There you are. We don’t even need to turn up and we make people better,’ says Frank, going over to the stove, standing in front of it and raising the tail of his jacket. ‘Ahhhh! That’s more like it.’
‘I don’t want to be a nuisance, chaps. I’m so terribly sorry for calling you out on a night like this.’
‘Don’t worry yourself about that, Edward. The most important thing is to make sure you’re okay.’
We go through the usual questions for chest pain, take a few readings.
‘We need to get you out to the vehicle and do a proper ECG. Is that okay?’
‘Yes. Of course. Whatever you think. Would it be okay if I just called my daughter Stephanie and told her what’s happening?’
‘Sure. Go ahead.’
‘Will I be going to hospital, do you think?’
‘I’m afraid so. You can’t be too careful with chest pain.’
He dials the number.
Frank puts our equipment back in the bag and I write down a few details.
Edward gets through.
‘Hello, Steph? It’s daddy. Look the paramedics are here and they think it’s probably best if I go with them to hospital. I’m so sorry to be a nuisance, dear. But I’m perfectly all right. The pain’s gone and I’m feeling okay. Please don’t worry yourself… No, no. I’m absolutely fine. I’ll be there for a few hours. I’ll let you know when I know more….. No, darling. It’s late and you’ve got work tomorrow….. Honestly darling, it’s very sweet of you but…. well, if you’re sure. I’m so sorry. I’ll see you up there, then? Love you.’
He rings off, gently puts the phone back in its cradle. His hand lingers there for a second.
‘She’s a sweetie,’ he says. ‘And she’s got work tomorrow.’
‘Duvet day,’ says Frank. ‘I’ll write her a note.’
‘Would you? That’s kind,’ says Edward.
He stands up and Frank hands him his jacket.
‘Jane would say I was making a fuss over nothing. And she’d be absolutely right, of course.’
‘Is your wife…?’
‘She died a few years ago, now. Quite a few years, actually. Nineteen eighty five.’
He pauses, his jacket half on, inclining his head, as if someone was calling to him and he couldn’t quite hear. I go to help him finish dressing, a log cracks on the fire, the moment passes.
‘Shall we?’ he says, then reaches up to a hook by the door, takes down a hat, and pulls it on firmly. ‘Lay on, Macduff.’


OKinUK said...

I teared up.

Anonymous said...

What a dear man. I hope he is okay.

Jane Brideson said...

A beautiful piece of writing - I could see Edward's home so clearly.
Do you find out what happens to your patients once they are seen at the hospital?

Alexia said...

This made me cry, Spence.

What a gift you have, and how gently you evoked this lovely old man's personality.

BB said...

Now that was a sweet and sad story. Hope he was ok.

porkchop abracadabra said...

Killer opening line.

Anonymous said...

Oh what a lovely chap, I do hope he is ok.
Thank you for your beautifull writing, it never fails to touch the heart strings.
Keep up the good work and keep warm too.
Stay safe out there.
Best wishes.

Liz said...

You are an amazing writer...feel like I am in the room. I must say though I think you English are much more polite when sick that we Canadians would be. Must be a cultural thing...LOL

Spence Kennedy said...

Mollie - It struck me that although it was an isolated cottage, he did seem to have v close ties with his children, which was a testament to the strength of the family after the mother died.

KMK - I don't know what caused the pain but I don't think it was his heart - unfortunately we have to take chest pains in regardless.

Jane - It was a lovely cottage. A lovely calm air about it. You can't beat a warm stove in winter time!

Alexia - I enjoyed writing about Edward. He was a lovely patient!

Porkchop - Half the time I cut the first lines I write, 'cos they're often a bit purple-prosey, and it takes me a while to get going. I liked that one, though!

Anon - Thanks. I'll be wearing my jacket for the next few days, I think!

Liz - Well.... it depends on the patient! We've had plenty who weren't so polite! Mind you - I thought Canadians were supposed to be v polite, too?


Thanks for all your lovely comments!

Tom Hakkinen said...

Hi Space Kennedy,

That's a real warming story you've told! I hope he was ok in the end? You don't think that having to take people in regardless with chest pains might make people not want to report chest pains if they're not sure - out of fear of "being a nuisance"?

Lyndylou said...

That was a lovely story. What a lovely man and such a kind one at that by the sounds of it.

I love reading your stories. My son is often taken away in an ambulance because of his seizures and I wonder if any of your fellow workers ever writes about him. If they do, I hope they do it with as much care and sensitivity as you :-)

Hel said...

beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks Akseli - I like that 'Space' Kennedy! I wonder if that's what made me think of the pseudonym in the first place...?

The thing is about chest pain, we can only make a 'best guess' about the cause - the definitive diagnosis is with a blood test, which they have to do at hospital. We'd rather not take them in, but we can't take the risk.

Thanks LyndyLou - He was a lovely patient.

I hope everything's good with your family. Sorry to hear about the seizures. I'm absolutely sure that your local crews have nothing but sympathy and concern for your son. I think the ambulance are good at recognizing the genuine cases.

Very kind of you, Hel!


Thanks for all your comments. xx

Unknown said...

What a lovely story. Clearly he is a dear man who is well loved and who has loved well.

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks Nari - It's always a pleasure to pitch out to characters like Edward. And the great thing is, I think they're in the majority. :)

Sabine said...

Spence, you have a really amazing bloge here. So much life. I am hooked. Thanks!

Spence Kennedy said...

Hey CMAN! Thanks a lot! :)

Greenwood said...

Your blogs make me breathe in deep. It's as if I can smell the surroundings you describe. The often terrific ache of melancholy touches the bottom of my heart every time. Your narration of life is fantastic.

Spence Kennedy said...

I think there is a melancholic twist to a lot of the things I write, prob darkened by post-shift exhaustion. Maybe it's genetic, too - who knows? Either way, thanks v much for the lovely comment, GW. Really appreciate it. x

Olga said...

You write beautifully. . I am always curious about what inspires, and drives a writer.

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks v much Olga. I'm not sure it's easy to say what drives me to write, exactly. It is the case that I feel twitchy and unproductive if I don't write, though!