I’d been out to Sean just the other day.
‘He’s got a formal mental health assessment coming up soon,’ the co-ordinator said, ‘but meantime they’ve asked us to go in and make sure he’s safe. Apart from his medical issues there’s already a history there of withdrawal, maybe some paranoid behaviour. No recorded episodes of violence, though, so you should be all right. It’s really just to do some obs, see if he’s taking his meds. And check his blood sugar. He’s not been all that compliant lately.’
When I got there the flat was dark. I knocked and waited until eventually I heard some shuffling behind the door, felt I was inspected through the peephole, then a rattling of a chain being put on, and the door cracked open.
A pair of eyes, the head turned to fit them both vertically in the gap.
‘Hi! Hello! Sean, is it?’ I said, making myself as friendly as possible. ‘My name’s Jim. I’m from the Hospital Avoidance Team. I’ve just come round to see how you’re doing.’
Who sent you?
‘The hospital. They were worried you might not be taking your meds.’
Who did you say you were?
‘Jim. From the Hospital Avoidance Team. Here’s my card.’
I pulled it from my pocket to show him. I carry my card in my pocket, on one of those secure clips that plays the card out on a length of nylon. He recoiled at the sudden shushing noise.
‘It’s okay Sean! It’s okay! It’s just my ID card.’
After a moment he peered back through the crack.
Have you come to kill me?
‘No! God, no! The opposite, in fact! I’ve come to see you’re all right. But if you don’t want me to come in, that’s fine. You don’t have to see me if you don’t want to.’
He shut the door. At first I thought that was it and I turned to go, but then I heard the chain being taken off, and the door slowly opened, wider this time. Sean stood just behind it, waiting. He was draped in a duvet cover; in the poor light, and with his thin hands poking out holding onto the door and the hem of the duvet, it was unnerving, like I was being shown into the home of a giant woodlouse.
‘Why don’t you go first?’ I said. He didn’t respond, and stared at the carpet, breathing through his mouth, waiting for me to go through.
Up till that point I’d been feeling pretty tired. A long day, with one last patient before I could go home. Suddenly I was energised again – especially when he closed the door and put the chain back on.
‘Do you mind if I sit on the sofa?’ I asked, already thinking that when he took his seat I’d sprint back to the door, throw the chain off and run down the hall.
He didn’t answer, but came and stood on the other side of the room, by the window.
Are you sure you haven’t come to kill me?
‘Sean – I haven’t come to kill you. I’m here to ask you a few questions, and test your blood sugar if that’s okay. Do you test yourself sometimes?’
‘So you know how important it is to keep up to date with all that?’
He nods again.
I open my bag as gently as I can.
‘All I’d like to do is scratch your finger and that’s it. I can see you’re really tired and I don’t want to disturb you anymore than I already have. So why don’t I just do the blood test and go? How does that sound? But if you don’t want to do it, I’ll completely understand.’
He didn’t answer, but shuffled off into the kitchen.
I was really worried, then. I thought he might have gone to fetch a knife or something, and I scanned the room looking for something I could use to defend myself.
He came back in with a sheet of kitchen towel.
‘Right!’ I said, trying to mask the relief in my voice. ‘I’ll be as gentle as I can.’
That was yesterday.
Today, they doubled up for safety and sent two nurses in to do the health screen.
I heard what happened when they got back.
‘He wasn’t answering the door at all and we were worried,’ said Rachel. ‘Sean’s neighbour came out and said that was his car outside so we called the police. They tried everything, but it looked bad, so in the end there was nothing else for it and they smashed the door in. And what do you think? Empty. Nada. Nobody home. And we’re all standing around scratching our butts feeling stupid when the neighbour comes out again. ‘Oh,’ she says. ‘No. I never said that. I only said I thought that car was quite like Sean’s.’
‘Great way to improve someone’s paranoia,’ said the co-ordinator, typing in the details. ‘Come home to find the police have put your door in. Anyway. Never mind. Least said, soonest mended. Good work, people.’