Eddie was forty-one. Life had been a struggle, well, since he was discharged from the Navy some years ago. He hadn’t been looking after himself. He had PTSD, back pain. He smoked too much, didn’t take exercise. Didn’t drink alcohol, which was something, but abused his pain meds and went long periods without eating or drinking. Recently he’d become quite emaciated. Found it difficult to motivate himself in the morning. Spent long periods lying in bed, smoking, staring at the TV that was permanently on. Going through to the lounge became a major event. His family – particularly his elderly mother – did what they could. They were local, so that was handy. In fact, someone was able to look in on Eddie every day. Took it in turns to bring him cooked dinners, sausage casseroles and chicken pies in dishes covered in foil, which, despite their best efforts, went largely untouched. They turned up to take him to various appointments. Practically had to carry him out. His brother Chris decorated the flat. Even Eddie’s ex-wife popped round when she could. Everyone was worried. Things were getting worse, not better.
It was Eddie’s mum who found him. She’d come round to see that he’d got up that morning. He had a follow up appointment at the chest clinic and the way things were going he couldn’t afford to miss it. She was pleased to see his bed was empty. The bathroom door was shut so she guessed that’s where he was. She rapped on the door and said hello as she passed through to the kitchen to make a pot of tea. There was no reply, but he wasn’t chatty in the morning so she didn’t think too much of it. She clattered around getting the tea things ready, shouting out to Eddie about the appointment and this and that. She thought it was strange he didn’t say anything, though, not even a grunt. She stopped what she was doing and knocked on the door again. When he didn’t answer she pushed it open. It didn’t have a lock. You had to sing if you didn’t want company.
Eddie was collapsed on the toilet, a dreadful grey colour, slumped to the side across a low table, bottles of shampoo and conditioner, razors and cotton buds scattered around him.
She shook him by the shoulder, even slapped his face. Then phoned for Chris.
As soon as Chris saw his brother he knew he’d died. He dragged him off the toilet onto the floor, rang 999, and began pressing up and down on his chest, following instructions that the operator was giving him on the phone he had crooked between his ear and his shoulder.
When we arrived we knew it was hopeless, but Chris was doing CPR and the body was warm so we set to work. We dragged Eddie out of the bathroom into the hallway to give ourselves more room. A back-up crew arrived. Between us we did everything we could, but nothing changed. Eventually we had to take the decision to end the resus. We turned off the monitor and began tidying him up for the family. I went through to the bedroom to tell the mother and Chris that Eddie had died. The mother howled and tried to break past me, to do something, anything. But Chris hugged his arms round her, sat down with her on the bed, and let her sob the worst of it out. I said how sorry I was, and quietly left the room.
Later, I’m standing with Chris on the landing whilst the other paramedics finish ferrying the equipment out to the trucks. Chris has to go to the front door now and again to meet the next relative to arrive, telling them more than he could on the phone, preparing them as best he can, before showing them inside to where Eddie is lying in the hallway, a blanket over him up to his chin. Chris then takes them through to the bedroom where his mother is being comforted by the others who’ve arrived, then he comes back out onto the landing.
I’ve finished the paperwork. There’s nothing else to do but wait for the police to arrive. Every time I hear a car I glance out of the window, but mostly I devote my attention to Chris, who wants to talk about what’s happened, the past, the family, anything that comes to mind. He’s pale and tense but seems to be bearing up well. Chatting about his early retirement, the plans he’s made to give himself some space to think about the next move, that kind of thing. At one point there’s another terrible wail from inside the flat. He stiffens as if he’s about to go back in, but then takes a breath, folds his arms and leans back against the wall. He smiles, and shakes his head.
‘Well. At least it gets me out of steam-cleaning the patio,’ he says. But then he glances at me. ‘Sorry. That sounds terrible.’
‘Don’t worry. I know what you mean,’ I tell him.
And it’s true, I do.