Ellie’s off sick, Glenda doesn’t come in till twelve, so I’ve been taken off my morning visits to cover admin.
There’s a scene in Peter Jackson’s King Kong when the sailors are trapped in a canyon with thousands of giant insects, hornets the size of dogs jumping on their backs, cockroaches and spiders and horrible leggy things scampering towards them over the rocks as the light from the last flare peters out. Monstrous worms with circular teeth and pulsating mouths chomping down on the cook’s head whilst he flails about with his machete…
Fact is, I don’t like working in the office.
It wouldn’t be so bad if the phone would stop ringing. Referrals, queries about referrals, queries about queries, requests for clarification about inappropriate referrals, amongst a hundred other calls, from carers on bad mobile phones needing information, from doctors and social workers and Guy the house clearance guy, from the parking permit people, the discharge people, the something or other team, the clusters and the hubs and the BandB people, equipment provision, a mental health nurse (I particularly want to keep him on the line because he sounds so heartbreakingly poised, but he’s busy, apparently, so I have to move on) – everyone with a complicated situation that needs sorting out now, please, something which might actually be possible if you could just have one clear damned minute to figure anything out. Meanwhile, it appears no-one on the team knows how to file anything alphabetically, or knows where the faxes are kept, or has the faintest idea how to find even the simplest number. I’m in the middle of a call with a tearful relative when Jake puts a urine specimen in front of me.
‘How do I fill out the form?’ he says.
None of this is particular to this morning, of course. It’s obvious they need more staff, but there isn’t the budget. Jake’s working zero hours, to all intents and purposes. He starts early, goes home for four hours in the middle of the day, comes back to finish late. It’s as clear a sign as any. The squeeze is on.
‘See if you can make a start on the filing backlog, okay?’ says Susan, the Co-ordinator, slapping me on the back and smiling as brightly as a freshly stropped razor. The carpet is covered with hundreds of tiny white paper circles where someone knocked the bottom off a hole-punch yesterday. ‘And if you could have a little tidy up, that’d be great, too!’ she says. ‘I’m joking, of course.’
The morning passes incredibly quickly. I glance at my watch and for a moment I think it must have stopped last night – but no, it is actually half past ten. I’ve been at work two and a half hours already. The phone is ringing again. I finish writing out the last referral and in-putting the information on the computer whilst I crook the receiver between my ear and shoulder.
‘Good morning. Rapid Response Service. Jim speaking.’
Oh, hello. Jean here. Sorry to disturb you. Is that the Response people at the hospital? Only I wanted to say how grateful I am what you did for Bill.
‘That’s very sweet of you, Jean.’
No, I mean it. You’re a wonderful bunch of people and I wanted you to know how much it meant to me and the family all what you did for us this last month. It really was a difficult time, what with one thing and another. So anyway, I wanted to give you a present. There’s a friend of mine who does this engraving, with cut-glass. He’s ever so good. I’ve used him before, the last time Bill was up the hospital. Not your hospital, the other one…
‘Oh yes?’ (handing a form to Susan who is circling overhead; pulling out another document; writing a note to myself to call Guy the house clearance guy; opening another database on the computer…)
Bill was in the other one for a while and they were ever so nice to him there. So I got this friend to engrave a cut-glass bowl for them, too. I thought it would be nice to have something that lasted, you know. Something you could put on a shelf and look at and always remember.
‘That’s lovely, Jean’ (checking the referral email line; finally filling out that MSU form; trying to mime to Jake where it needs to go next)
So could you tell me a list of who works there? So I can them all engraved around the edge of the bowl?
‘Well – it’s very much a team effort, as you know, Jean.’
Oh, yes. You’ve all been very kind. I don’t think there’s been one person we’ve met who hasn’t been really nice. What’s your name?
Jim? That’s nice and short. Jim. All right then. Jim. Who else?
‘How about putting “To everyone in the Rapid Response Team”?’
‘The Rapid Response Team.’
Wait a minute. I’ll just get a pencil.