The Co-ordinator asks if I’ll help Graham, one of the nurses, with a blocked catheter. ‘The patient needs hoisting, so there’s that,’ she says. ‘But anyway I’ve got a note to say he’s extremely bad tempered, so you’ll definitely need to double-up.’
I recognise the address from a few years back when I was working in the ambulance. Mr Batchelor was a large man even then. He’d fallen out of his chair and needed help getting up. I remember him being quite a laugh, in a bracing kind of way. He’d sworn inventively when we’d struggled to use the inflatable cushion. I wonder how he’s doing.
The change in that time is marked. He’s completely lost the use of his legs, now, confined to a hospital bed in his living room, doubly incontinent, persistent pressure sores and only moveable by means of a gantry hoist. There are three over-bed trays positioned around him, one with a laptop, one with a variety of cups, and one with a phone, remote controls, wet-wipes and a few magazines.
‘Rapid Response’ he says when we let ourselves in. ‘That’s what you call rapid, is it?’
‘Sorry it took us a while. We’ve been busy this morning.’
‘Yes, and I’ve been in considerable pain. But you wouldn’t be interested in that, would you?’
‘We’ll sort you out as quickly as we can.’
‘Don’t touch that!’ he snaps when I go to move one of the tables. ‘Just stand there and listen to me for a moment. I’ve had this done a hundred times and I know exactly what needs to happen. First of all, I want you to go into the room behind you on your left. Your left! You’ll find all the equipment you need in there. Bring it through and put it on the sofa, and then we’ll start thinking about repositioning me.’
Graham goes to fetch some things through.
To break the silence I tell Mr Batchelor I’ve met him before.
‘I don’t think so,’ he says.
‘I used to work in the ambulance. We came and picked you up after you’d had a fall.’
‘Oh. One of that crowd.’
He obviously doesn’t want to revisit that time, so I change the subject. ‘Shall I start moving the tables?’
‘All right. I suppose you may as well. This one first – slowly! Put it over there. And move the laptop more fully on. The last carer dropped it. That was six hundred pounds up the swanee’
I move everything with meticulous care, coaching myself not to respond to his verbal bullying. His catheter is blocked and needs changing; someone has to do it or he’ll end up in hospital.
‘How small are you?’ he says, watching me work.
‘Average height,’ he sneers. ‘I’m six foot two. Or was, before all this.’
‘Yeah? Well, that might be handy for getting things off a top shelf. Me? I’m perfectly adapted for working in the mines.’
‘Or living in the Channel Islands,’ he says. ‘They must be relatives of yours.’
‘It’s the Neanderthal bloodline. Anyway, endomorphs conserve the heat.’
‘Endomorphs, ay?’ he says, adjusting his glasses. ‘That’s a big word for a little man. So we’re a professor of something now, are we?’
His tone smarts, but Graham comes in with a handful of stuff ready to begin, so I distract myself by making things ready.
Graham is an excellent nurse. Even though Mr Batchelor is a difficult patient both physiologically and emotionally, he re-catheterises him without any problems. The urine flows into the new bag. The relief is palpable.
‘Thank you so much,’ says Mr Batchelor. ‘I really am grateful. There’s a tub of sweets on the kitchen counter. Grab yourselves a handful. But don’t touch anything else.’
Needless to say, we don’t take any sweets. Graham finishes the paperwork whilst I tidy up and start putting the tables back. Mr Batchelor is hyper-fussy about the angle of everything, telling me right and left and towards me like I’m some kind of voice-activated robot.
‘I need my laptop just-so,’ he says. ‘It’s my Houston Control. I do lots of reading on there, research, that kind of thing.’
He taps the laptop into life.
‘I’ve been reading quite a bit about Groucho Marx. I don’t suppose you know who that is.’
‘Groucho Marx? Didn’t he used to wear a stick on moustache, but lost it before one performance and painted one on, and that’s how he kept it.’
‘Yes! That’s him. There’s a quote of his that’s quite apt on this occasion. I never forget a face…’
I jump in to finish it off.‘…but in your case I’m happy to make an exception.’
Mr Batchelor frowns at me.
‘Don’t slam the door on the way out,’ he says.