Dr Hargreaves

by Nick Allen


John put down his mug of tea and reached for his tabloid. He had little doubt he was in for a long night, but was determined to make it as bearable as possible. Before he had even reached page 3 though, the phone rang. The hospital’s ward G3 had a CT scan to take down. John checked his watch and cursed. This shouldn’t be happening at this time of night.

“You must be pretty important to have wangled a scan at this time,” said John, as he pushed the wheelchair down the deserted corridor.

“It’s John isn’t it?” said the slim man he was pushing.

“Er, yes.”

“I thought so. I used to work here; retired eighteen months ago.”

For the first time John looked at the man in pyjamas he was pushing but didn’t recognize him. Then he spotted the gold watch.

“Dr Hargreaves?”

“The very same. It’s just unfortunate that we meet again under such circumstances. And in answer to your question, John, yes, I think I was regarded as important. Once.”

Dr Hargreaves had practically been a god when John first became a porter ten years ago, and he was much more important than that by the time he reached retirement. He was feared and admired in equal measures, but he was the only surgeon who knew the name of every one of the porters.

On the way back to the ward, CT scan over with, they discovered a mutual love of horse racing, and Dr Hargreaves invited John to address him as Andrew.

Most nights John had little to do and around midnight would wander up to G3 and see how his new friend was doing, passing on his newspaper to a new devotee. They would chat about the nurses or the horses or the news. Never though, about the scan.

John didn’t need to ask, or need a degree, to see this once formidable man was in trouble — the problems Andrew had in finding the right word sometimes, the lapses in concentration, and the forced smile said more than any medical report ever could.

Andrew was brave, though, and never seemed to accept the hand fate had dealt him, until of course the scan results came back. John never officially knew the diagnosis of course, but he had heard the word “Alzheimer’s” mentioned frequently enough to guess.

John would still call each evening he worked, wishing Andrew a cheery goodnight, but the banter had gone and the visits became almost an ordeal. But visit he did, without fail.

And then, at 2 a.m. one morning, John was called to a leaking toilet. He went to the wrong one, the one at the far end of G3 that no one ever bothered to use, and walked in on Andrew holding a handful of pills, ready to swallow.

Neither man spoke, they just stared at each other. The power had shifted. John held all the cards now, and it frightened him. He looked at the emergency pull cord that dangled, thought about using it, but saw a look in Andrew’s eyes, saw him shake his head.

“Sorry, wrong toilet,” said John, swallowing hard. “Goodnight, sir.”


Copyright © 2009 by Nick Allen

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