On an overcast afternoon, one week into their retirement, the couple took a trip to their local out-of-town dealership.
The garage lot was tightly packed with cars and formed an alternating pattern of light and dark and the forecourt flags that lined the roadside whipped in the breeze like medieval standards.
The couple’s children had grown up and moved away, one to the suburbs and one to central London, and with the extra bit of finance they had from his private pension they had come to buy a little run-around, something she could use to visit their sons, something for shopping trips into town.
Almost on instinct she made a beeline to a small car with cheery daffodil-yellow paint and rounded body work.
As they headed toward the show room, excited and happy, she collapsed. It was sudden, spasmodic and overwhelming.
From that moment on she became a panting whitebait, an air-hungry sturgeon that snorted and frothed, a stertorous fish that was hooked and reeled into the back of the ambulance. The paramedics worked on her, tubed her, filled the dead-space of her lungs with oxygen and as their blue lights receded into the distance the flags slowly unfurled.
Later that day he was allowed to see her body.
According to the doctors she had died of a massive MI and he mentally recalled a conversation with their GP several months before. It was a conversation about fats in the blood and BMIs and blood pressures and Q-risks. All of it had been interesting but quickly forgotten.
He was shown in to where the nurses had prepared her body. Her hair was neatly combed in a way that she would never have worn it in real life. Her skin was stretched and sallow, not resting and peaceful but rigid and anchored like a wood carving. He wanted to run but he stayed in order to confront death, the definitive taboo. He felt trapped, compelled to autopsy the sinewy language of the dead that was laid out in front of him like a museum piece.
After the funeral he decided to move to the suburbs, closer to their youngest son. It was a move that they had planned in a lot of detail before she died. The area was smarter, more elegant and had a postcode that they had spent their working lives striving for.
When he arrived at the new house there was a small, yellow car parked on the drive. He saw someone cleaning the windows from the inside and was touched by the kindness of the previous owners to go to such lengths to make the house nice for him.
When he stepped through the door, his wife greeted him. She was radiant, looking much younger than he remembered, her cheeks flushed with life.
She held both of his hands and explained. Shakily he sat down. The doctor had told her that the move had lowered something called her Q-risk and that they could now get on and live out their retirement together.
Written in response to: Heart tsar calls for QRISK to replace Framingham score
Dr Kevin Hinkley is a GP in Aberdeen.
Through the K hole – credit HaPe Gera, Flickr Through the K hole – credit HaPe Gera, Flickr