It’s started to rain.
I’ve left my jacket in the car.
I can’t open the keysafe.
I put my stuff down and have another go.
But no matter how hard I try, nothing works, no cunning combination of turns or taps or slaps.
Luckily, Eleanor’s lunchtime carer shows up.
‘Who you from?’ she says.
I show her my ID, pulling it out to her on its extendable line. She’s so ferocious, I imagine her grabbing the card, spinning me round and choking me to death with it, Bourne-style. Instead she just sniffs disparagingly and glares me out of the way.
‘What you do here?’ she says. I’m not sure whether she means the keysafe or why I’ve come, but by the way she attacks the keysafe, I guess it’s the former.
‘The numbers don’t work,’ I say, hopelessly.
‘What means numbers not work?’ she says, flipping the safe open and jangling the keys in my face. ‘Hmm?’
I pick up my stuff again and follow her in.
She calls up the stairs.
‘Elllliiiiiinnnnnooooooorrrrr! Is AAAhhhhnnnnnnaaaaahhhhh!’
Then she glances over her shoulder.
‘Eleanor upstairs,’ she says. ‘I go kitchen. You do what it is you do first.’
Eleanor is asleep in a high-backed armchair in the bedroom, both hands grasping the armrests, her face squashed up, as if she’s dreaming of riding in an open top sports car. When I touch her gently on the arm and say her name, she opens the eye nearest to me and fixes me with it.
‘Sorry to wake you, Eleanor. My name’s Jim. I’m with the Rapid Response Team at the hospital. I’ve come to see how you’re doing.’
She rolls about in the armchair, struggling to sit more upright. When I offer to help she bats me away, then carries on muttering and rolling until she’s worked herself into a better position.
‘Now then. Tell me again. What is it that you want?’
I chat to her whilst I write down the observations.
‘Did you work?’
‘Did I work? Of course I worked! I was a veterinary surgeon for fifty years. Why must one be treated like an imbecile? Not you, so much. I’m speaking generally.’
‘I have the greatest respect for vets,’ I tell her, wrapping the blood pressure cuff round her arm. ‘We have a cat and a dog. A lurcher.’
‘A lurcher you say?’
‘Yeah. She ran into some barbed wire a couple of years ago. Had some dreadful cuts down her front. Superficial, thank goodness, but they needed stitching. The vet was so lovely. She did a great job. I think it’s about as skilful branch of medicine as there is.’
‘Possibly. I couldn’t really say.’
‘It must be easier, though, treating people rather than animals. At least a person can tell you what’s wrong.’
‘No, no. I think it’s the other way round. I think people confuse the issue.’
I finish the exam and write out the ticket.
‘Have you opened your bowels today?’ I ask her.
‘No! I have not! I’m balled up, Jim! Balled up!’
‘Dry pellets! Acting somewhat in the manner of a bung! And that’s the problem, you see. I had two falls getting off the commode, because I was so long sitting on the damn thing, straining away, my legs went orf.’
‘I’m sorry to hear it.’
I make another note.
‘Do you take anything?’
‘Do I take anything, did y’say? For the constipation?’
She sighs and harrumphs, naming the usual treatments.
‘What on earth are we going to do, Jim?’ she says. ‘What do you recommend?’ Then lacing her fingers across her abdomen, she fixes me with her favourite eye again. ‘Take the old gel’ out and shoot her, I s’pose?’