George is ill, that much is clear. For years he’s been caught between the Scylla and Charybdis of his failing heart and kidneys, struggling to navigate a way through on meds that push him disastrously first one way and then the other. George has suffered frequent spells in hospital with low blood pressure, low SATS, deranged bloods and so on, the last time ending up with a week on ITU. I’m not surprised he greets my suggestion of an ambulance with complete horror.
‘I really don’t – want to go – to that damned – hospital again,’ he says. ‘I couldn’t bear it.’
‘I completely understand,’ I tell him. ‘I mean, you wouldn’t want to book a holiday there. But the thing is, George, with your blood pressure this low, I can’t see how we can safely treat you at home. Look – best case scenario – you go in, they stabilise you, and then they turn you back home again in short order. They won’t keep you in unless they absolutely have to. What d’you say?’
‘I would really – rather not.’
‘The other thing to bear in mind is that right now is the perfect time to go in. The doctors haven’t started sending patients in yet; it’s too early for the pubs and clubs. The day’s just beginning. This is the quiet time.’
‘Okay, then. How about I ring your GP and we all discuss it over the phone?’
‘Fine. If the doctor says so – I’ll go.’
He hands me the phone. I ring the surgery, leave a message with the receptionist for the doctor to call me back urgently, then spend a moment writing out my notes.
On the opposite wall there’s a cute, A4 sized photo of a cat, a long-haired tabby, in extreme close-up, its head angled to one side, frowning with such exaggerated concern you’d think it was an election poster for a cat MP.
‘Who’s that in the picture?’
And right on cue, Nelson wanders in.
He’s very much older than his photo now, moving as stiffly as a puppet cat made of sticks.
‘Nelson!’ he says. ‘Good boy! C’mon Nelson!’
Nelson gives a strangulated meow – like someone forcing the door on a rusty tin shed – then teeters towards George’s legs, his ragged tail in the air.
‘I knew I wasn’t right – when I got out of – puff this morning – giving him – his brush,’ he says, struggling to reach down.
‘Would you like me to call anyone to come and look after Nelson?’
Nelson looks across at me; so does George.
‘Let me speak – to the doctor first,’ says George, straightening. Nelson takes that as his cue to jump up on George’s lap, and would have fallen straight off if George hadn’t stopped him.
‘There we go!’ he says. ‘Good boy.’
He works his right hand down Nelson’s back, the cat slowly raising its hips to meet the end of each stroke.
‘I bet – I know – what the doctor – will say,’ says George, after a minute or two. ‘And I bet Nelson – does, too. Don’t you?’