Carl climbs back into bed and slowly pulls the covers up to his chin. He’s a frail, tentative man in his forties, skin like parchment paper, his teeth sharp and defined. I’m surprised he’s been discharged home like this, but then again, he’s a convincing witness, and they’re short of beds on the psych wards.
‘I’m over it,’ he says. ‘I won’t be trying to kill myself again.’ He grimaces, and pulls the covers even more tightly around him.
This last time was the second attempt. Carl had taken an overdose of medication he’d stored up over time. He’d panicked at the last minute and called a friend, who’d dialled 999. When the paramedics broke the door down Carl was in cardiac arrest. They managed to get him back, though, and after a prolonged stay in hospital – a couple of weeks in intensive care, a month on the wards – he’d been discharged home with community support.
It’s a nice flat, but so bare you’d think Carl had just moved in. Even though he’s an artist, there are no pictures on the walls apart from two, childish, brightly-coloured crayon drawings of a dragon and a butterfly. The bare boards seem to go on for miles, from Carl’s bedroom at the back of the house to the huge bay windows at the front. By the bed he has an alarm clock and a glass of water. At the foot of the bed is a stuffed toy: Tigger, from Winnie the Pooh.
‘Tigger saved my life’, says Carl. ‘When I came out of ITU I only had the strength to stroke his head. It gave me power, though. Sounds silly but it’s true. He was my best friend in there. He kept me going, stood up for me. I mean – ITU was the worst. It was a nightmare. You’d think I was unconscious to look at me, but I wasn’t. Everything was out to get me – the equipment, the nurses. Everything was holding me down trying to climb inside me. I struggled like mad. One time I even threw myself out of bed. I just climbed over the cot sides and ended up on the floor – drips, lines, cables, the lot. Everyone came running. I thought they were coming to finish me off so I fought like crazy. Then they sent me back under. Next thing I knew Dad was standing by the bed on the ward. He looked so old and sad and worn out. It was Dad who gave me the spare kidney when I needed it, a few years ago. He’s amazing, my Dad. He came all the way down from Cumbria to see me. On the train. That’s a long way! I just kept thinking about him, sitting there, staring out the window. But when he got here I didn’t know what to say to him. Other than sorry, obviously. The worst thing was, when he left me at the hospital he came back here to sleep – in this bed, where I did the deed. That made me feel very strange. But he couldn’t afford a hotel, so I suppose it made sense. I wondered how I’d cope, coming back to this flat. It’s been alright, though. I don’t think about it all that much. Funny, isn’t it?’