heading west

I’ve had a day of it, racing round town, one end to the other, a mixture of clinical and care work. I’ve tried everything I can think of to rationalise the calls and group them sensibly, but there’s only so much you can do with these things. As the day segues into evening, I’m down to the last three – two in the east, one in the west. I’ve figured that if I leave the west job until the end, at least I’ll be the right side of town to head home. But to make it all work, I’ll have to get through the two eastern jobs as quickly as I can, and then use every scrap of local knowledge I have, every rat run, sewer sprint and wormhole, to beat the traffic and make it west at a reasonable hour.
The eastern part of the plan has gone well, and I’ve finished up at the second of the calls with ten minutes in hand. This should be quick, too. Gerald has dementia. His wife needs help caring for him, and we’re standing in until a full-time agency can find the capacity.
He’s in the lounge, watching TV. I escort him to the bathroom, change his stoma bag, clean him up, treat his sore areas, re-dress him and have him back in the lounge just as Homer leaps to the side as Marge parks the car at the beginning of The Simpsons.
I sigh, and pull out a fresh yellow sheet to write up what I’ve done. His wife Laura chats to me. I’m efficiently relaxed and pleasant, but I know in myself it’s all a bit of an act. I’m horribly conscious of the time, and I want to be away as quickly as I can.
I have to be heading west in the next five minutes.
‘Thank you so much for helping us tonight,’ she says. ‘I don’t know what we’d do without you.’
‘It’s a pleasure,’ I say, clicking my pen, closing the folder, standing up, shouldering my bag. ‘Any time.’
I move towards the door. She holds it open.
The porch light shines on the bushes in the garden as they whip from side to side in the wind.
‘My daughter should be here soon.’
‘The eldest.’
‘The other one died. Last year.’
‘Oh. I’m so sorry.’
I resist the urge to check my watch.
‘What happened?’ I say.
‘That’s dreadful.’
‘She was a brilliant girl. A research fellow at the university.’
‘But the project she was working on got cancelled, for some reason. She had money troubles. Came to live with us for a while. Fell and broke her leg badly. Suffered a stroke because of it. And I think she just found the whole rehabilitation process just too frustrating. It was all too much, her job, her health, money worries, you know? Drinking more and more. But we all thought she’d turned a corner. She bought a flat and moved out. She said she needed a few days to get herself together, and I shouldn’t worry if I didn’t hear anything. When it went on for a week I knew something was wrong. I called the police and they found her. I wanted to go and say goodbye to her at the mortuary but they said not to, what with one thing and another.’
Laura is holding on to the door. Outside the wind is getting stronger and the sky is swept and black. What light there is, from the houses across the road, from the streetlamps, and from the slow trail of commuter traffic passing along the main route just below us, make it all seem harder and more resonantly cold.
‘I’m so sorry,’ I tell her. ‘How are you bearing up? Have you got someone to speak to about all this?’
The objective part of me sneers: Someone other than you, you mean?
‘Family and friends,’ she says. ‘We’re getting through. But look – I know you’re busy. I mustn’t keep you.’
And I want to sit down and talk to her some more. I want to shrug off that single-minded, watch-tapping part of me that has a plan, that always knows where he is in terms of place and time, and drives me on. I want to make time, but it’s the end of the day, I’m late, and I find I don’t have any.
‘I’m so sorry for your loss,’ I say, and go.

4 thoughts on “heading west

  1. Hi Cogi!
    Yesterday was the same. And then, finally getting back to the office to handover, and the co-ordinator was so exhausted himself he only wanted to hear the NEWS score (you prob know – the way a patient is assessed, accruing marks for abnormal observations…). Bleurgh.


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