Charles Court sounds like a tabloid headline but it’s actually one of the smartest addresses in town. Even the approach is elegant: a shallow arrangement of steps and brass handrails, a decorative filigree canopy, wide, brass-handled glass doors, and swirling blue and white paisley tiling right and left – so that the whole thing looks more like the entrance to an expensive hotel than an apartment block.
I’ve actually come here to see two patients – a retired doctor with back pain on the sixth floor, and a newly catheterised patient on the fourth. I buzz the guy on the fourth, figuring I’ll work my way up, just as a snappily dressed elderly man carrying a deli bag walks up the steps towards me.
‘Excuse me, sir,’ he says. ‘Are you here to see Doctor Richards? I’m his friend and colleague, Doctor Samuels.’
‘Nice to meet you,’ I say, holding out my hand. He gives me the deli bag, which confuses me. We shake hands. I give him the bag back. Which confuses him. ‘Thank you,’ he says, immediately turning to walk back down the steps.
‘Aren’t you going to see your friend?’ I say.
‘What? Oh – yes! Yes, of course!’
He walks back up the steps, just as my patient answers the intercom.
‘Dr Samuels here,’ says Doctor Samuels, leaning pass me to answer in a gruff, doctorly kind of way.
Who? says my patient.
‘It’s okay’ I tell him. ‘It’s Jim, from the Rapid Response.’
With a doctor?
‘No. He’s visiting a friend. Another doctor.’
Oh says my patient. He mutters something. The door buzzes. We both go into the lobby.
‘Yes, yes,’ says Doctor Samuels. ‘Of course, we trained together, Doctor Richards and I. Saint Bartholemew’s, London. Nineteen fifty nine! Sixty years ago!’
He shakes his head sadly.
‘I’m seeing a patient on the fourth,’ I tell him. ‘But it won’t take long and I’ll be up to see Doctor Richards in about half an hour. Will you still be there, d’you think?’
‘Yes, yes!’ he says. ‘Now look. I want to thank you for all the marvelous work you do. It’s simply wonderful. We’re very lucky to have you.’
‘I’m a doctor, too, you know. Well – retired! I’ve had my share of home visits, I can tell you!’
‘I bet you have!’
‘Oh my goodness, yes! I’ve been everywhere, seen everything and all stops in between. So I know what you’re up against and I thank you most sincerely for the trouble you go to. It’s much appreciated!’
We walk together across the thickly-carpeted lobby to the lift. I push the button. The doors slide open.
The lift is tiny – a sign of how old the place is, I would think. Dr Samuels is a portly guy in a huge mohair coat. He’s even wearing some kind of panama hat with a brim. In fact, if he hadn’t said he was a doctor I’d probably guess he was a Mafia Don. With all the bags I’m carrying, it’s going to be quite a struggle for us both to fit in. For a second I’ll think I’ll take the stairs, but then Dr Samuels says: ‘After you.’
‘Well I’m getting out on the fourth and you want the sixth so maybe you should go first.’
‘Please’ he says, pressing his eyes shut and gesturing to the lift. ‘I insist.’
It’s easier just to go along with it, so I say thank you and get in, putting my bags on the floor. Dr Samuels follows on, and we end up almost nose to nose. The doors slide shut, and for a moment we stand there, Dr Samuels with his eyes shut, breathing so heavily I’m worried he’s fallen asleep.
‘Excuse me…’ I say, struggling to reach around him to press the buttons.
‘Not at all! Not at all!’ he says, still with his eyes shut.
The lift judders up.
‘Ninety fifty-nine!’ I say, to make conversation. ‘That’s a long time ago.’
‘Yes,’ he says. ‘That’s when I went to medical school to start my medical training, you know.’
‘Is it?’ I say. ‘Amazing!’
‘That’s where we met, of course. Dr Richards and I.’
He opens his eyes.
‘Yes!’ he says. Why? Were you there, too?’
‘Just a lucky guess.’
The door slides open.
‘Well. This is me,’ I say.
‘Thank you,’ he says, but even though I pick my bags up, he makes no effort to move. The doors slide shut again and we carry on up to the sixth.
‘Here we are!’ I say as positively as I can when the lift doors open again.
This time Dr Samuels does reverse out. I walk with him across the hallway to Dr Richard’s flat, just to make sure he gets there safely. I don’t want to be there when the door opens, though, because it’ll be embarrassing to have to explain why I’m not coming in just yet. My other patient is expecting me. I’ve confused things enough as it is.
‘I’ll be back up in a minute’ I say, heading for the stairs.
‘Why? Where are you off to?’
‘Down to the fourth,’ I say.
‘Marvelous!’ he says. ‘Well. Lovely to see you!’
He makes no move to ring or knock, but I hope for the best and leave him to it.
When I turn to look for the last time, he’s still standing there, idly rocking backwards and forwards. I wave, and he waves back with the hand holding the deli bag. Seems surprised to see it. Looks inside. Rummages around. Pulls out a sandwich. Starts eating it.