‘I just wish I didn’t feel so damn swimey all the time.’
I’ve not heard that description for dizziness before – although swimey sounds about right. A portmanteau word, two meanings packed into one, maybe light-headed and swimmy.
‘I came over all swimey and fell down in the street,’ he says, walking ahead of me down the long hallway, veering from wall to wall like a bad seaman on a rough crossing. ‘That’s when they called the ambulance, you see. Everyone was very kind and all that. I didn’t want to go to hospital so they brought me home.’
Geoffrey eases himself into his favourite armchair and immediately rolls up his sleeve.
‘Come on then,’ he says. ‘But I warn you now – it’ll be high.’
For someone of ninety-two, Geoffrey is doing pretty well. He lives on his own, quite independently, in the basement flat he moved in to when he was thirty. The flat must once have been the servants quarters to the rest of the building, an imposing Georgian town house in an immaculate square in the centre of town. I’m not sure how Geoffrey manages the steep concrete steps down to the basement, particularly with his wheeled trolley, but apparently that’s what he does, off to the shops most mornings, to his clubs, and his grand-niece or something, who lives nearby and helps out now and again. The steps are so worn and precipitous I have to concentrate when I come down; for a ninety-two year old suffering from swiminess – well, it’s a vision of terror.
‘Oh I manage all right,’ he says. ‘I’m used to it.’
I’ve been sent by the GP to run an ECG. We chat whilst I stick the dots on and make everything ready.
‘I was in the RAF,’ he says. ‘I didn’t fly the planes. I was a driver, mostly. Ambulances, fuel trucks, recovery vehicles, motorcycles. There wasn’t anything I couldn’t drive. That’s something I miss, you know. Driving.’
‘Do you ever go out with your grand-niece?’
‘Yes. She’s very good. She takes me places. And I go with the old whatsisname – the community bus. But it’s not like having a wheel in your hands. It’s not the same thing.’
‘We’re so lucky, not having to face a war,’ I say, plugging him in to the machine. ‘I can’t imagine what that must have been like.’
‘It was hard,’ he says. ‘But you just got on with it.’
‘What did you think of it all?’
‘What did I think of what?’
‘You know – the war and everything. What it was all about.’
‘You didn’t think anything about it. You didn’t have a choice. It was just there. It happened, you got your papers, that’s it. Off you went. There weren’t none of us liked it. But we was only young when it started and we didn’t know much else. Probably just as well…’
‘Hold still for a second, Geoffrey.’
The trace on the screen settles down. I print off a strip.
‘Okay. You can relax now.’
‘So what does that tell you?’ he says, leaning forwards. ‘Still alive, am I?’
‘Yep. You’re pretty good. Look – you jog along nicely and then every now and again you have these little extra beats thrown in that don’t do anything, but they make the pulse feel a little bit irregular. Other than that – fine.’
‘Oh,’ he says. ‘Good. So what’s causing all this damned swimeyness then?’
‘I don’t know, Geoffrey. We’ll have to look into it some more.’
I unstick the dots and pack the machine away.
When I’ve finished with the rest of the examination, I write up the notes and then say goodbye.
‘Don’t get up,’ I say, shaking his hand.
‘Thanks for coming,’ he says.
‘Pleasure. And we’ll send an OT round tomorrow to see what equipment you could use around the place to make your life a little easier. Especially with all this swimeyness.’
‘Well that would be good,’ he says.
When I step outside I notice a handwritten sign thumb-tacked to the door beneath the concrete stairs, (probably the door to an alcove where the bins are kept). The sign is written in shaky block capitals:
PLEASE KEEP THIS DOR SHUT. YESTERDY WHEN I OPENED IT A FOX JUMPED OUT. THANK YOU. GEOFFREY (1A)