Of course, that's terrible news for them.
It started with my mum becoming unwell. I'm not going to write about that, but it did turn my week into an edgey one, a significant amount of which has been spent visiting her in hospital.
Hospitals. They are amazing places, full of people chuckling their thanks as they leave healed, only to pass very serious strangers on mobile phones outside. In other contexts I sometimes make eye-contact with strangers, smile, and make a light-heated remark. In a hospital I know exactly how to do this - I shut my mouth and look away, blankly.
But there was one stranger who I looked straight at. On Monday night, as I was heading down the huge main corridor to go home, just before the rotating door to the car park, on the right, there was this fellow in a chair. He had a blanket around him. I supposed that he had come out from his ward to sit here for a while to alleviate the boredom. I felt like I should talk to him, but as indicated above, I more appropriately said nothing, and went home.
The following night, he was there again. This time, just as I approached the door, I said something like "Good night mate, all the best." And again left.
The next night he wasn't there. He was outside at the bus stop. Still seated, still with his blanket wrapped around him. I was actually headed past the bus stop, but I had to say something. I still don't know why.
Whatever it was I said, it led to a conversation of approaching two hours' duration.
Now you might think that Carter (as I shall call him) had missed his bus by that time, but he wasn't sitting there to wait for a bus. No, nor was he trying to escape from his ward. Carter was sitting there because he was homeless. I know he was homeless because he showed me his discharge papers from the hospital which stated, and I quote, "Diagnosis: Homelessness".
Yes, it's officially a medical condition now. They really ought to develop a vaccine for that.
And Carter wasn't even sitting on the bus stop's bench - he was in fact seated in one of the hospital's plain metal wheelchairs. But not one of those ones with big wheels that you can propel yourself along in, rather one that required somebody else to give him a push.
Yes, the hospital had discharged him, but he had been unable to leave, so they had solved this conundrum by pushing him outside as far as the bus stop, and then leaving him there.
Feel free to read that sentence a second time if you need to.
Well, naturally I wanted to call an ambulance for him, then he could be taken to hospital and… oh, no, wait, they would just trundle him back out here again. Perhaps a different hospital then? Hm, they were hardly going to drive out to collect him from just outside of this one. The local homeless shelter? I realised I didn't even know where it was.
Without asking me, Carter said that what he really needed was an advocate who would argue on his behalf to get him admitted and seen by a social worker. I decided not to volunteer - they had already made their decision, and life has impressed upon me the conviction that you cannot change the mind of a person who works for a public body. I did offer to get and pay for a mobility cab to another hospital, but Carter couldn't decide on a course of action. You see, the police had already said they'd called for an ambulance for such a purpose, but that had been hours ago. And for reasons unknown to me, a part of Carter appeared to find merit in remaining at the bus stop. I think I could have swayed him, but telling him that I knew what he should do with his life seemed like I would be insulting his intelligence.
You see Carter, I should explain, was not your stereotypical homeless guy. He was not inebriated. He refused my money. He had a spectacular ability to tell what I was thinking before I had verbalised it. It's no wonder that we sat there for as long as we did discussing world travel and the rise of the internet. "I apologise for not meeting you under better circumstances Steve."
As far as I was concerned, he appeared to have all his faculties, so it was up to him what to do.
Presently Carter correctly observed that I was now looking to leave and go home. I told him that there was a long line of people who he was about to meet. I offered him a copy of my mum's new book that I had with me, but then realised that she had already signed it to someone else, so I said I'd be back the following night with another copy, if he was still here.
The following evening, I told my mum about him, and in her hospital bed she accordingly signed a copy for me to give to him, but missing off his name in case I didn't find him. I didn't want to spent the rest of my life looking out for somebody else called Carter to give it to.
In the event, he was still there. Yes, 24 hours on, he was still sitting at the same bus stop. No-one else had pushed him anywhere either. I hurriedly gave him the book, for which he was grateful. It's a children's book, but he seemed to have the time. I couldn't stay and chat that night, or perhaps more accurately I chose not to.
The following night my mum was to be discharged. Big, tentative, relief. I'd powered up my mobile phone, got some credit for it, and come along armed with the number of the homeless shelter for him. Would you believe, after 48 hours, Carter was still sitting there. He'd spent two entire days now just watching traffic and talking to that succession of people, but he still remembered my name.
I know what you're thinking, and I didn't ask him.
This time there had been progress though. After two days the police were back again with an ambulance that had agreed to take him to another hospital, but one which, for legitimate reasons which he explained to them, he did not want to go to. To clarify, they wanted to take him to one hospital, but he wanted to go to a different one a similar distance away. He wasn't being difficult, he had a good reason, which I won't put here.
We managed to get a few minutes' privacy from them. He accepted my offer of the use of my phone to call the shelter for another option, but I wrongly projected that we now didn't have enough time. So we said our goodbyes instead. And I gave him an apple I'd brought along for him. And I asked if he would mind me praying for him later, which he was cool with.
A couple of hours later, as my mum and I came past in the car, Carter was nowhere to be seen.
Looking back, I wish that I had taken him to the hospital of his choice myself on that first night. I can hardly claim not to have had the time, because I instead spent it just sitting there chatting.
It seems like all he really needed was one human being to simply take him somewhere. Anyone can do that. Anyone. Even me. You don't even need to be a driver. And yet, in 48 hours, absolutely no-one did. Lots of us stopped to talk, one couple prayed with him, but none of us would give him what he practically needed.
Jesus' hands and feet? No, I don't think I was that for him at all.
So long Carter. I hope that, in the event that we do meet again, it is indeed under much, much better circumstances.