Even though it’s only half past six in the morning, Eloise is outside waiting to meet us. Immaculately dressed in a floral print jacket and tweed skirt, sensible leather flats, and a mustard yellow handbag hung with geometric precision over her left arm, she is as bright and neat and pressed as any picture you’d find in a catalogue.
She waves as we turn into the drive.
‘Are you the patient?’ says Rae, winding in the window down. It hardly seems possible – a ninety-four year old female with chest pain.
‘Yes’ she says, giving a little shrug, and turning the corners of her mouth down. ‘It’s probably nothing. I hope I’m not wasting your time.’
She steps up onto the ambulance with a neat little bob of the shoulders, and settles down on the trolley.
We set about taking a history, recording her obs, doing an ECG. Eloise tells us the chest pain started yesterday, a niggly feeling in the centre of her chest. She thought it would ease off by itself so she didn’t do anything about it. Last night was uncomfortable though. She didn’t get any sleep, restlessly alternating between the bed and the chair. By dawn she was sure something was seriously wrong. She got herself ready, and made the call.
‘I tried talking to the pain. In my mind. D’you know? I do that where I can and it often does the trick. But unfortunately it wouldn’t let me go, so eventually I had to admit defeat and call on your good selves. Thank you for coming so promptly. I hope I haven’t disturbed your morning.’
I tell her it’s a pleasure.
Rae tears off the ECG strip.
‘Fast AF’ she says. ‘No wonder you’ve been having these niggles.’
‘I’m afraid it’s a trip up the hospital, Eloise,’ I tell her. ‘Do you have everything you need?’
‘My bag, my medications,’ she says, reaching out, touching each in turn. ‘Everything else,’ tapping the side of her head. ‘all the most important things, I keep up here.’
We set off.
* * *
‘I’m fascinated by birds,’ says Eloise. ‘Big ones, little ones. Birds of prey. In fact, I’m writing a story about a bird. A falcon.’
‘That sounds great. What happens to this falcon?’
‘Oh – I’ve no idea. I’ve got to do some research. Follow him around and see what he does, where he goes. But I read another book just yesterday about the stars and planets and so on. By that young professor, you know the one? Who’s lovely and enthusiastic and throws his arms about? Apparently he says there are two universes now. No doubt they’ll find more. Everything changes so quickly it’s difficult to keep up. Before that I was reading quite a trashy book about films. Do you like films?’
‘Yes. I love films.’
‘Do you know John Wayne? The cowboy? You know he’s very tall and wobbles about quite a bit? Well, do you know why he wobbles?’
‘I’ve no idea.’
‘Tiny feet! Size six!’
‘My god! I’m amazed he could stay upright at all’
‘And do you know what they used to say about Paul Newman?’
‘I can guess.’
‘They said he was the perfect salesman. He could sell you anything. But despite that, he wasn’t able to talk himself into the navy as a young man. And do you know why?’
‘Colour blind! But I like reading lots of different things. I must admit I was a bit disappointed in the last novel I read. Jilly Cooper. Quite a racy thing about horses. Oh – it was all right for a while, but then I turned one particular page and – goodness! I couldn’t possibly tell you what I read there, it was just too disgusting for words. So do you know what I did?’
‘Marked the page?’
‘No. I chucked the whole thing in the bin. Even though it was a hardback and cost me nine pounds ninety-nine. I know these things go on. I just don’t know why anyone would see fit to write about it. The next book was better, though.’
‘No. James Patterson. Now he’s a writer. A few grisly murders, but not so many it gets you down. Most of the time he’s actually quite funny.’