I hold on to Ernie as he steps up onto the scales.
‘Just over forty kilograms’
‘What’s that in old money?’ says his wife, Nancy.
‘Six and a bit stones. Not enough for your height, Ernie.’
It’s an understatement. Ernie’s grossly malnourished, his knee joints the thickest part of his legs, the crests of his hips standing out like old crockery.
‘They’ve given him some special mousse to eat,’ says Nancy.
She hooks her greasy hair back and stands over me, the seamy smell of her unwashed nightdress quite overpowering. The house has obviously never been clean, but now that Ernie’s mortally sick, at least some semblance of hygiene would help. As it is, Nancy doesn’t get the basics. When I got here it was obvious Ernie had been faecally incontinent. I set about cleaning him up, and Nancy was surprised when I asked her for a bowl of soapy water. (Soapy what?), and would’ve been quite happy for me to use the same water and flannel for his face.
The good news is they have all the equipment they need. Commode, various walking aids, a hospital bed, pressure relieving equipment and so on, much of it already tainted, but still functional, at least.
Above Ernie’s hospital bed is a set of shelves, precariously filled with dozens of toy train carriages and tangled bundles of track.
‘He used to have ‘em all laid out,’ says Nancy. ‘He’d spend hours and hours, standing in the middle of it all, watching ‘em go round.’
I help Ernie off the scales and back onto the bed. I can’t believe the change in him since I saw him a few months ago.
‘It’d be interesting to see the discharge summary,’ I tell her, thumbing through the folder again for clues.
‘They didn’t give him one. He only come out with the one bag.’
Ernie is staring straight ahead, his eyes two protuberant, glassy stones.
‘What makes his eyes go like that?’ says Nancy.
‘I don’t know. Thyroid problems?’
She snorts, and folds her arms.
‘Maybe it was the trains,’ she says.