With his thick black hair shaved at the sides and gelled back in a riotous, rockabilly quiff, white framed sunglasses and perfect designer stubble on perfect designer cheekbones, Ethan the nurse makes every visit a fashion shoot. I can see him waiting for me further up the street. He’s lounging back against a lamppost, one white trainer kicked back, the furry grey hood of his parka arrayed like a luxurious ruff around his neck. He’s snapping gum, staring at the cars going by. He looks fabulous.
‘Oh there you are !’ he says, pushing himself upright, flashing me a look over the rim of his sunglasses. ‘I wondered where you were. I was clean-shaven when I got ‘ere.’
We’ve come to see Martin, a difficult patient with a history of drug and alcohol abuse, a few incidents of aggression. I’ve met Martin before – admittedly a while ago. He’s young, but only on paper. When I met him he’d just been discharged from hospital following a fall down a dozen steps and a long lie at the bottom. The fact he survived at all was a miracle. But miracles are fleeting, and there’s always something waiting the other side of them. In Martin’s case it’s a list of medical acronyms that reads like a roll-call for the damned. What’s worse is his recent history of non-compliance, missed appointments, saying one thing and doing the opposite. He was referred to us by the hospital again, this time to dress an abscess in his thigh, the latest wound from his attempts to find anything resembling a patent vein. We’ve been formally tasked to get him to sign an official waiver if he declines help again, so long as we feel he has capacity.
‘Feeling lucky?’ I say to Ethan.
‘Darling – I was born lucky,’ he says. ‘The rest is just exercise and a great skincare routine.’
Martin is staying in supported housing – in this case, a pleasant-looking semi in a tree-lined street, a tall privet hedge screening it off from passers-by. A mosaic path runs from a gap in the hedge through a functional, stone chipped garden to the front door. There’s a brushed steel intercom by the door with a line of illegible, rain-smeared names by the buttons.
‘Shall we ring it?’ says Ethan.
‘Let’s ring it.’
‘You ring it.’
‘No you ring it.’
‘Okay I’ll ring it.’
Ethan rings it.
Eventually a woman answers in a drawly voice.
‘Who is it?’ she says.
‘Oh hi there!’ says Ethan, leaning closer to the intercom and giving me a cartoon-panicky look at the same time. ‘It’s Ethan and Jim, nurses from the rapid response team? We’ve come to see Martin?’
‘He can’t see you. He’s ill,’ she says.
‘Ah. Well. That’s probably a good reason for us to come in, then. I mean – you know – being nurses and everything…’
‘I told you. He’s ill. Come back tomorrow.’
‘Erm… we kind of need to see him face to face so he can tell us himself,’ says Ethan. ‘Otherwise we’ll get in trouble. Would that be alright?’
‘No,’ she says. ‘Come back tomorrow.’
The intercom goes dead.
Whilst we’re standing there wondering what to do next, a man and a dog appear through the hedge. They both look extraordinary – the man because he has a heavily tattooed face and more piercings than the cenobites in Hellraiser; the dog because it has three legs and a lop-sided, piratical expression.
‘Who’ya’fter?’ he says.
‘Oh, hi there!’ says Ethan, shrugging and tipping his head coquettishly on one side. ‘We were just wondering if we could come in and see Martin?’
‘Martin?’ says the man, frowning. ‘No. You can’t. He’s ill.’
‘Yeah. I know. We’re nurses.’
The man fishes a key out of his pocket (although I wouldn’t have been surprised if he pulled it out of his ear).
‘No,’ he says. ‘Come back tomorrow.’
And he lets himself in.
Only the dog looks back.
The door slams shut.
‘Fine! Suit yourself!’ says Ethan, shouldering his bag. ‘Waste my time why don’t you!’
He puts his sunglasses back on, and we leave. The sun comes out. Ethan walks down the path with an exaggerated throw of his hips.
‘Work it, baby!’ he says.