There’s an algebraic simplicity to Derek’s predicament. A chest infection meant he preferred sleeping downstairs in the recliner chair where he could be nice and upright. Because he was further away from the toilet he stopped taking his diuretics, so he wouldn’t have to face the stairs every five minutes. The less he used his legs, the more swollen and painful they became. He mobilised even less. He took to wearing inco pads his wife Maureen bought. Eventually he was off his legs completely. When he needed to open his bowels, it was all Maureen could do to help him stand for one precarious minute whilst she cleaned him up. He developed a pressure area. A urine infection. When eventually the doctor was called (they didn’t like to bother anyone), he prescribed a broad-spectrum antibiotic, and referred Derek to the Rapid Response Team to co-ordinate care, equipment and physiotherapy at home.
Derek’s fourteen year old granddaughter Leah is in the house when I visit with Connie, the occupational therapist. Leah is sprawled on the vast leather sofa that dominates the room, her attention split between the phone she holds in one hand and the giant TV screen in front of her, playing Strictly Come Dancing at top volume. She stares at the dancers on the screen with expressionless disdain.
‘Can you turn that down a bit, Leah?’ says Maureen.
‘Can you turn the TV down?’
She points the phone at the screen, blinks a couple of times, and when nothing happens, sighs, picks up the remote from her lap and uses that instead. The noise diminishes a fraction.
‘Thank you poppet.’
The whole thing inspires her to start texting; she brings the phone right up to her face and starts furiously jabbing away with her thumb.
We assess Derek, seeing what he can do, how he can stand, the state of his bottom and so on. I half expect Leah to make herself scarce, but as neither Derek or Maureen ask her to go, we carry on regardless.
‘Oh! Oh! I’m widdling myself…’ says Derek, staggering as we try to manoeuvre him on to the commode we’ve set up alongside the chair. Unfortunately, when we took the old pad away, we hadn’t thought to have a fresh one ready and now our hands are full.
‘Leah! Leah! Can you fetch me over a clean pad from the bag on the sofa next to you?’ says Maureen.
‘Uh?’ says Leah, not looking up from the phone.
‘Quickly darling! Can you fetch me a clean pad? Grandpa needs one right away.’
Leah leans to the side and starts blindly patting the space next to her, falling short of the pad bag by a foot.
‘Quickly darling… oh, never mind. Don’t worry. It’s only an old carpet. I can soon clean that up.’
‘Thanks for all you’ve done,’ wheezes Derek as we land him safely on the commode. ‘I can’t thank you enough.’
‘You’re welcome!’ I say to him.
I turn round to change my gloves. Leah has resumed her sprawled position on the sofa. I can’t imagine how Maureen puts up with her, but I’m guessing there are reasons why things are as they are. I can’t help feeling slightly queasy, though. She’s like some giant, featherless cuckoo, landed in an alien nest, staring at all the spangly birds on Strictly Come Dancing, wondering if she wouldn’t have been better off hatching there.
‘Shall I make everyone some tea?’ says Maureen. ‘Leah? Would you like a cup of tea? And some of those fancy biscuits?’
‘Uh,’ says Leah.