Jack collapsed in the early hours of the day before, on his way to the bathroom.
‘God knows how long he was on the floor,’ says his wife, Rita. ‘I woke up sometime after and got up to go to the loo. I didn’t even realise he wasn’t in bed. I got quite a shock when I put the landing light on and found him stretched out like that.’
‘How was his breathing?’
‘A bit snory. He was on his front, with one arm stretched up ahead of him, like Superman, only lying down.’
‘What did you do?’
‘I phoned our son, who told me to hang up and call the ambulance. They were here incredibly quickly. And they were so nice. Really, I couldn’t fault the attention we’ve had. You hear all these stories, but I’ve not got a bad thing to say about anyone.’
Jack is sitting in his armchair, blithely taking it in. A lean, tall, comfortable man, browned from long hours in the garden, he looks surprisingly youthful in a stripy red and white T-shirt and slacks.
‘How are you feeling now?’ I ask him.
‘Fine!’ he says, slowly unlacing his fingers, moving his hands apart, and then linking them back together again, like an oven releasing heat. ‘Absolutely tip top!’
‘They took him up to hospital and he had every test you could think of,’ says Rita. ‘He was scanned, dipped, poked and X rayed. He had an ECG. You see those bruises on his arms there? They had to take his blood twice. The first lot clotted they said.’
‘Why? Do you have a clotting disorder, Jack?’
‘No, nothing as exciting as that,’ says Rita. ‘No – it was just one of those things, they said. One of those things. What things? As if that’s supposed to be reassuring.’
‘So every test came back clear?’
‘A medical mystery,’ says Jack, rather shamefacedly. ‘I’m sorry to cause all this bother.’
‘It’s no bother, Jack.’
‘Everyone’s been so kind.’
‘You’re worth it, as they say in the advert.’
‘You know. The one about the shampoo.’
‘Oh! You’ve just reminded me! I’ve still got my shower cap on!’
Rita snatches a plastic turquoise hat from her head and tosses it across the room.
‘Why didn’t you tell me I had it on?’ she says to Jack.
He shrugs. ‘I didn’t think it mattered.’
‘You must have thought I was mad.’
‘No. To be honest I hardly noticed.’
‘Men,’ she says, shaking her head and patting her hair.
I tidy up the paperwork.
‘Well! All your observations are absolutely normal,’ I say to Jack. ‘I can’t find anything out of the ordinary. What did the doctors say at A and E? Did they have any theories?’
‘Not a sausage,’ he says.
‘Sometimes these things happen…’
‘There we are again! These things…’ says Rita.
‘Did you have any warning of the collapse? Did you feel dizzy or faint before you went down?’
‘No. I didn’t even know I had. I remember getting up to go to the loo, and the next thing was Rita leaning over me.’
‘How long were you out?’
‘I’ve no idea. An hour maybe?’
‘That’s a long time. And were there any untoward sensations or feelings you were aware of? Were you sick or breathless? Did you have any pins and needles or numbness?’
‘My arm was pretty numb, but then I’d been lying on it, I suppose.’
I close the folder and lean on it.
‘Whatever it was, it passed without any lasting effect. It could’ve been your heart throwing out an arrhythmia. It could’ve been what they call a transient ischaemic attack or mini-stroke. It could’ve just been a simple faint from getting up too quickly in the early hours. But whatever it was, there’s no lasting damage. Your GP will want to do some more tests and keep an eye on you over the coming days and weeks, but other than that, I think you’re pretty good.’
‘There are so many things medicine doesn’t know about,’ says Rita.
‘I mean – take me, for instance. I’m allergic to so many things.’
‘Goats milk. Electricity. Cats. Potatoes.’
‘That must make life difficult…’
‘Tree pollen. Grass pollen. Pollen, basically.’
‘Do you take medication…?’
‘Gold and silver, brick dust, latex, plasters, gluten.’
‘What on earth do you do?’
‘And electromagnetic radiation. We’re surrounded by that, all these computers and things. You know – we lived abroad for much of our lives. In a very poor part of West Africa. There was really nothing there, no power, no cars, not anything modern. And then when we came back to this country I started to fall ill, and I realised it was because I’d become so used to an absence of things, I was reacting to pretty much everything.’
‘We’re all right,’ says Jack. ‘We’ve got it pretty good.’
‘Do you know about the blue light?’ says Rita, undeterred.
‘What d’you mean? The blue light?’
‘The television – it runs on blue light. It’s the high frequencies, the waves that carry it all through the air.’
‘Oh?‘I’m very sensitive to it. Very sensitive. If I was to turn that television on, I’d be asleep in minutes.’
‘I have the same problem,’ I tell her.