Terry Giger is down on all fours, where he fell in the living room half an hour ago. He can’t get himself up because of his size and his ill-health; the best he can do is sway a little from side to side, to relieve the pressure, and low, breathlessly, like a stricken animal.
His flat is cramped, cluttered, stifflingly hot. There’s a pool of urine spreading out from the tiny bathroom and across the hall; as I step across it I wish I’d thought to put my shoe-covers on, but there’s no time now. As soon as I’m at his side I can get to work. He hasn’t hurt himself, so it quickly becomes a matter of mechanics, one of angles and gravity, weight-bearing capacity, reserves of strength. He has sufficient power to hand-walk up a chair I hold steady in front of him. Then taking his weight as much as possible on his elbows, he cheats enough room to bring his right knee forward, planting enough of his right foot to push himself into a stand. As soon as he’s up, he topples over to the side onto the unmade bed beside him.
His breathing is awful; he’s clammy and pale.
‘Let’s get you sat up a bit,’ I say to him. The mattress is so squashy, and Terry so huge and exhausted, even this simple manoeuvre becomes a major issue. But after a struggle, improvising with a bunch of cushions robbed from the sofa and a bunched-up duvet, I get him into a better position.
‘I’ve not met you before,’ I say, standing back and dabbing at my forehead with the back of my gloved hand, ‘…but you know what? I’m really not happy with how things are.’
‘Sorry about that,’ he says.
‘It’s not your fault. I just want to make sure you’re safe. And at the minute – I’m not convinced you are.
I take his pulse, feel it bounding away at his wrist.
‘I’m all right,’ he says. ‘Please don’t … call the ambulance.’
‘Well, look. Let me check you over and then we’ll see what’s what.’
Of course, it all points to the same thing. Infective exacerbation of COPD – not exactly headline news, given that’s what he was discharged with a couple of days ago. The question is, has it deteriorated to the point where he needs to go back in? And is he safe to be left alone?
‘My advice is to get an ambulance running,’ I tell him.
‘No. I’m not going.’
‘How are you going to manage when I go?’
‘I’ve got carers.’
He holds up two fingers, then attempts a smile and says sorry because of the gesture.
‘So what’re you going to do in the meantime? You can hardly sit up, let alone make it to the toilet and back.’
I glance in the direction of the horror of his bathroom.
‘You’re really not safe,’ I say. ‘I can’t just leave you like this’
‘I don’t want … to go back… to hospital.’
Whilst I’m weighing up the options and thinking how best to change his mind, there’s a knock on the flat door.
‘Teeeerrrrry!’ and then ‘Jesus Christ, what a mess!’
A young woman struggles through, laden down with shopping bags. She’s tall and emphatic, her long hair scraped back in a comb, her startlingly blue eyes circled with kohl, tattoo gothic lettering running up and down either arm.
‘Whatcha been up to, Terence?’ she says. ‘Man! I go away for two weeks and I come back to this.’
I introduce myself, tell her what I found, how Terry is, how he needs to go to hospital, but won’t.
‘When you gotta go you gotta go,’ she says, dropping down onto the bed next to him and taking his hand. ‘Mate! Look at you! You’re proper sick and I don’t mean that in no good way. So you listen to what this guy’s tellin’ ya. And if you won’t listen to him, I tell you somefin’, you’re sure as hell gonna listen to me…’