All phone calls after midnight are bad calls
By Mark Burrow
Pyser Lee slept badly on Sunday nights. He worried about the week ahead, work. Having finally drifted off, he didn't want to go to the kitchen and answer his ringing phone.
'You have to answer it,' said Miranda sleepily.
'Answer it. It's loud.'
'What's the point?' he said, getting up. 'It's probably Radford drunk or a wrong number.'
Pyser, in his boxer shorts, walked to the kitchen. Picking up the phone, he saw the name Joanne, his twenty-year old sister.
'Jo, what's up?' he said.
'Dad,' she blurted. 'An ambulance is coming. We're going to the hospital.'
'What's happened to dad?'
'He fell over. He went to the toilet. He got up to go to the toilet and then fell over when he came out of the toilet. Mum thought he was drunk.' She started crying. 'He's talking like he's drunk but he's not.'
'I'll get a cab there. Which hospital is it, St Georges?'
'Right¦What's it called?'
She repeated the name.
'Thanks. You alright?'
'Yes,' she said.
He hesitated. 'How was the meal out today?'
The rest of the family, including his ninety-year old grandmother, aunt and uncle and two cousins, had gone for a pub lunch in Selsdon to celebrate Mother's Day.
'Yeah, it was good,' said Jo.
'You enjoyed yourself?'
'It was good.'
'I'll order a cab,' he said. 'How long do you reckon it'll take me to get there?'
'Twenty minutes. I'll tell mum.'
'Where is she?'
'Upstairs, she's putting her make up on?'
Pyser didn't speak.
'You know what mum's like,' said Jo.
'See you there,' he said.
Pyser pressed end-call. The thin light from the phone spread onto his hands and face.
'What's wrong?' asked Miranda from the bedroom.
The time was nearly 3:00am. He phoned the mini-cab office. A controller answered immediately. 'I need to go to St Helier's hospital,' said Pyser, giving his address. 'A car will be there in 15 minutes, sir,' came the reply.
Miranda was sitting-up in the double-bed. The overhead light was on. 'What's happened?' she said.
'Dad's being taken to hospital. He can't stand up.'
'I don't know. I'm going up to the hospital now,' he said, taking a pair of jeans from the shelf in the wardrobe and a tee-shirt from a drawer.
'Do you want me to come?'
'Stay here,' he said. 'It's probably better if you stay here.'
'I can come if you want me to. I don't mind.'
Pyser pulled on his clothes. Lacing up his blue canvas shoes, he thought about the pub lunch he was supposed to have gone to with the family. He had promised to go and then cancelled, saying he had to go to the office on Sunday and finish work.
Pyser had gone to the office in Bayswater. Logged in. Looked at a couple of emails. He had bought a Sunday paper and made a coffee and read an article by Christina Lamb about British soldiers getting outgunned again in Afghanistan. Then he read the rest of the paper cover-to-cover, drinking coffee, feet up on his colleague's chair, alone in the office, not doing any work.
A car horn beeped. It was loud in the quiet night. He switched on the light in the lounge and stood by the window, giving a thumbs up to the driver.
'I hope everything is ok,' said Miranda.
They kissed. She hugged him. He told her that he would call when he knew anything,
'Hi,' said Pyser, opening the car door. 'St Helier's hospital please.'
'Yes,' said the driver, who was wearing a large, beige quilted coat and the collars were up. It made his head look too small.
'How long will it take to get there?' said Pyser, buckling.
Pyser felt in his jacket pocket for cigarettes. They were there which was good.
Hearing Jo crying, that was weird. She never showed emotion. Not even when dad had the bowl cancer ten-years ago. Although she was very young back then, probably too young to understand what a close run thing it was with dad.
The car picked up speed and Pyser listened to the engine. They passed South Wimbledon tube station and the brightly lit 24-hour shop. The roads were long round here. Deserted and sad at night. They passed the large box-shaped stores, selling stationery, furniture, now empty but for patrolling security guards, and the industrial estate and the large building pock-marked with tiny red lights.
Pyser detested illness. Hospitals were bad news. I'll have to be strong, he thought. Don't wuss out on them. I'm ready for this. He saw the dark windows and parked cars of the low-rise, sprawling estates. 'You want A&E,' said the driver.
'Yes,' said Pyser. 'I don't know where it is.'
'I know where it is,' said the driver, turning right.
Pyser paid. Said goodbye. The lights were bright in the bare windows of the small waiting room, with its vending machine and plastic chairs. The doors slid open. Behind the reception desk, a woman in her fifties. A man and woman stood to her left, dressed in green uniforms. They were drinking from vending machine cups. Ambulance crew, thought Pyser. The waiting room was empty.
The receptionist put the phone down. She took a file off her desk and looked at it. Pyser expected her to ask him if she could help. 'Excuse me,' he said, looking around again to see if he had missed his mother and sister in the small room.
'One moment,' said the receptionist.
Eventually, she said: 'Yes, how can I help?'
'I'm Pyser Lee. My father, Robert Lee was¦'
'Robert Lee?' said one of the two ambulance crew.
'Yes,' he said.
'I brought him in. You're his son?'
'I'll take him through,' she said to the receptionist who, in turn, pressed a button. Security doors beside the desk clicked.
Hesitantly, Pyser pushed the doors open and walked through. The woman waited on the other side. 'I'll take you to him,' she said. He followed her along the corridor, right, then left, right again. 'What happened?' he said.
'It's some sort of brain injury,' she replied, her voice brusque, masculine. 'It's definitely not a stroke. The checks I did don't show it as a stroke.'
'What else could it be?' asked Pyser.
'The doctor's are running tests now.'
'But it's not a stroke?'
'The tests I ran suggest it isn't. They'll give him a scan and that will tell us more.'
They entered a ward. The woman pushed a curtain aside. He walked through. 'Pyser,' said his mother.
'You're here,' said Jo.
Pyser looked at his father on the trolley, rails raised on either said of him. Seeing Pyser, his father gripped the rails on his right side and yanked himself up and made a slurring sound. 'Pyyzzerrrr.'
'Lie down,' said Jo.
'Why u 'ere?'
It was his father and not his father. 'To see you,' he said.
'Dad, sit back down, put your mask on.'
'Mum and Jo asked me to come up. I know you're alright. They asked me, that's all.'
He lay down, guided gently by Jo. She replaced the oxygen mask. He tried to talk and his voice was muffled.
'I can't believe this is happening,' said Pyser's mother, Ann.
'You're not kidding,' said Pyser.
'I was asleep and I heard this almighty bang on the landing and I got up and he was sort of on the floor, holding onto the banister. The flowers were on the carpet, knocked over. I thought he was drunk.'
Pyser looked at the machine next to the bed and the tubes attached to his father. Jo was telling him to put the oxygen mask back on.
'We just don't know what it is. It could be anything. You know, we had such a great day yesterday. It was brilliant. Then this happens. He went to bed in his room, perfectly normal. '
Pyser felt a surge of nausea climbing up his throat. If it wasn't a stroke, what was it? There was only one thing it could be. And the brain too. Lights popped in his field of vision. In the brain. Creeping whiteness. 'I'm going outside for a breather,' he said.
Voices. A bathroom cabinet. Light shining in a shaving mirror. Blue shoes. Chair legs and human legs spinning fast. A long white corridor, shaking, with green curtains. 'Pyser, Pyser,' someone said. Another voice: 'This is unreal. This isn't happening.'
A nurse knelt beside Pyser. He saw his mother and sister. He couldn't figure why these people were gathered in his bathroom or was it the office at work?
'You fainted,' said Jo.
'You had a fit,' said a nurse.
Pyser sat-up. He recognised the hospital, recalled the telephone conversation with Jo and the mini-cab ride and the driver with the small head. 'I'm fine,' said Pyser, rising to his feet.
A nurse, who wasn't wearing a uniform, so he assumed her to be important, said: 'You're not fine. You're going to lie down.'
Pyser was ushered to a trolley, directly opposite his father. 'Are you prone to fits?' asked the nurse.
'No,' lied Pyser. He had to take off his shoes and take off his tee-shirt.
The nurse taped his upper arm tightly and took his blood pressure. His mother and sister walked over.
'This is unreal. I don't know which one of you to be with,' said Ann.
'Stay with dad. I'll be fine.'
The nurse pulled the Velcro. He felt the skin on his arm relax. She said: 'We'd like to run tests on you.'
Pyser shook his head. 'No tests,' he said.
'I can't let you go without a blood test.'
'Pyser,' said his mother.
'I'll have to get a form for you to sign then,' said the nurse.
She paused and then walked to the main desk.
'Go to dad,' said Pyser, sitting on the side of the trolley.
'You should have a test.'
'It's not needed.'
Pyser's mother and sister both walked across to his father. He pulled on his tee-shirt. He saw his jacket slung over a plastic chair. The nurse returned and he signed the form and her silence said everything she was thinking about him not taking the blood test.
A doctor was standing by his father and talking to his mother and sister. He joined them. 'We're going to take Mr Lee to the Clinical Assessment Unit. We can only keep a patient here for a limited period of time. It is better in the CAU. We'll move him in the next half hour,' the doctor said.
Pyser looked at his father, gazing at the doctor, but not really knowing what was going on.
'What do you think's happened?' said Ann.
'I think he's suffered a stroke. All the indicators point to a stroke. It's very likely, I think. We need to get him to CAU and then he will go for a scan and we should be able to determine what has happened.'
'What can you do?' said Pyser.
'If it's a stroke, there's not much we can do. In a sense, it's already happened and now it's a case of letting things take their course. We'll know more once he has a scan but first we need to get him to CAU which will be much better for him than here.'
Jo and Ann both said thanks.
'I'm going for a cigarette,' said Pyser.
'You should've had that test,' said Ann.
'I'll come with you,' said Jo.
Pyser nodded, telling his mother he would get her a tea.
They walked along a corridor. A woman was on a trolley, bedraggled, drunk, calling for a nurse. A man sat on a plastic chair next to her, head in his hands, asleep or, thought Pyser, simply trying to ignore her.
They followed the signs on the walls of the corridors. 'Sorry about that,' said Pyser.
Jo laughed. 'I can't believe you fainted.'
'I know. I'm an embarrassment.'
'You know I caught you.'
'You was falling right backwards and I caught you so you didn't fall harder. You're heavy, you know that?'
'I'm not light. Jesus. Well, thanks for that.'
'It's alright,' she said, laughing.
It was close to dawn. Shades and cracks of pale blue were diluting the black night sky, making the outlines of clouds slowly visible. Pyser breathed in the air. So different from the sickly air-conditioning inside. He stuck a cigarette between his lips and, using a wall as a shield against the morning breeze, he lit a cigarette, hearing the siren of an ambulance on the main road heading for A&E.
The doors slid open and Jo stepped out holding two cups. Pyser took his coffee and thought about Miranda and the call he promised to make.
'Thanks,' he said.
Jo said: 'Why was you rude to me yesterday?'
'Was I rude?'
'All I was doing was trying to make you come to Mother's Day.'
It came back to him. The tetchy phone call. The text message he sent her: You're a true Lee.
'I know, but work's crazy at the moment,' he said, wondering why he was lying. 'Sorry, you know. I didn't mean for it to come across badly. I guess I was rude. You know that I'm never good at family get togethers.'
Jo sipped her tea.
'I apologise for snapping at you and sending the text,' he said.
'What did that mean: you're a true Lee?'
'I don't know. Just the arguing and in-fighting.'
'I only wanted you to come along with everyone else.'
'Ok, you're right. I messed up. I should've been there.'
He thought he saw the vaguest of nods from her. 'Are we ok?' he said.
'So how was it anyway? Was it good?'
'Yeah, it was fun. The food was rubbish though.'
'They'd run out of Sunday dinners by the time we got there.'
'But you had a laugh.'
'Yeah, it was funny,' she said, laughing at something she remembered.
'I should've come along.'
'We all had a really good time together.'
Pyser exhaled. He held the cup by the thicker edged rim. The coffee was still too hot to drink. 'I can't believe I fainted,' he said.
'What a waste of space I am.'
'I catched you. I can't believe that.'
The only noise was the occasional traffic on the road.
After a pause, he asked: 'You okay?'
'He's in hospital now.'
She didn't reply.
He inhaled and flicked the cigarette hard against the wall.
'You shouldn't do that,' she said.
'True. I'm a bad person. Let's go. We can't leave mum on her own too long
and we better get her that tea.'
The doors slid open.
'I don't have change.'
'I do,' he said, looking to see if he could spot the ambulance woman who had said with such conviction it wasn't a stroke.