Chris picked up the next card on the pile, and checked it.
Mrs Swindells; Ward One: Wheelchair; Chest X-Ray; 4:10
He collected one of the departmental wheelchairs, clearly marked as a result of a previous turf war, and trundled down the corridor. Visiting time was approaching. It made sense to pick her up early.
He turned onto the ward and asked the perpetually grumpy Staff Nurse Walsh where he could find the patient.
'She's down in the day room. She's already in a wheelchair so you can leave yours here.'
Chris worried about the potential red tape this was going to generate but couldn't be bothered arguing.
He saw Mrs Swindells in the wheelchair, eyes closed, hands resting on her lap.
'Just taking you off for an X-Ray, Mrs Swindells'.
She said nothing.
He wheeled her back past the Staff Nurse.
'She's not very lively'
'Well spotted. She's been sedated –it's a common hospital procedure!'.
All attempts at conversation with his passenger were fruitless, so Chris took her to X-Ray, left her in the waiting room and told Sister Costello. He went off to read the newspaper in one of the cubicles reserved for patients waiting for enemas, having checked first that it was unoccupied.
He had hardly opened the paper when he heard his name being called out. There was a definite sense of urgency in the voice which made him move quickly.
'You’ll have to take her back.'
'You’ll have to take her back to the ward.'
By this time an incoming tide of visitors was streaming along the corridor to the wards. Chris waited for a gap and then proceeded down the corridor as fast as was prudent whilst pushing a corpse in a wheelchair.
As he was about to turn into the ward he heard the staff nurse's voice. 'She's just gone for an X-Ray, shell be back any minute.'
Shit! Why couldn't he have picked a less demanding holiday job! He didn't fancy a confrontation with angry family members, so he kept on going and pushed his expired charge down a side corridor to the sanctuary of the porter's room, where he decided to wait until all the visitors had departed.
After five minutes, he heard approaching footsteps. It was Polish George, a large amiable ex-miner. George stopped, looked at Chris's inert companion and exclaimed
' Chris, you can't bring patients into the porter's room!.'
'She's dead George!'
'Chris, you can't bring dead patients into the porter's room!'
'What should I do with her then???'
'Take her to the fucking morgue. That's the norm with dead patients'
Chris could see his logic.
He wheeled Mrs Swindells out the porter's room, through the side door and looped back along one of the outside paths. It was dusk. The air was cold and clammy with a fine drizzle hanging in the air.
Chris approached the morgue, which was half way down a covered way between the two main hospital buildings. He tried the morgue door. Locked. Shit. There was no one around and little ambient light. He left the wheelchair and headed back to the porters lodge for the key.
Returning through the gloom, he peered at where the wheelchair should be. There was nothing. He looked down the covered way, and in the half light he spied some movement. Gingerly, he made his way towards it. There was the wheelchair, on it's left hand side, the right wheel spinning slowly. Mrs Swindells, thrown clear by an impact with the kerb, was sprawled, half on the path and half on the flower bed.
Further down the covered way he saw Dr Browning, the Chief Registrar, striding purposefully up the slope. He looked down at the damp and muddied cadaver, still clad in her beige NHS dressing gown and slippers, in front of him, and pondered possible courses of action.
Things were clearly going to get worse before they got better.
Still, at least the wheelchair seemed undamaged.