As Pauline leads me through the house she fills me in on Jeremy’s past medical history. The operations and treatments, consultations and confirmations, missed appointments and misunderstandings. Things had picked up for a while, she says, but then three weeks ago Jeremy’s health took a marked downward turn, and now here we are, confined to bed, awaiting developments.
We’re accompanied up the stairs by their little dog, Brian.
‘We didn’t call him that,’ she says. ‘But he’s seven and we thought it’s too late to do anything about it.’
I don’t tell Pauline, but I wouldn’t say he looks like a Brian. He’s such a curious mongrel mix, though, I’m not sure what would work. The tight white curls of a sheep. The soft black eyes of a seal pup. The spindly legs of a Windsor chair. At a push I’d say he was more of a Barnaby.
‘Through here,’ says Pauline, stopping on the landing.
Brian stands behind her and gives me a look.
Even from here I can tell Jeremy’s very unwell. His skin has a grey quality, his nose pinched, the prominence of his mouth, the hollows of his eyes – everything a testament to disease and decline. I was told before I came out there were anomalies on the most recent chest x-ray. I wonder what conversations they’ve had on the subject, and I’m conscious of the words I should use.
Despite his sickness, though, Jeremy’s pretty chipper. He jokes about getting caught in the crossfire between the GP and consultant, about the tragic-comedy of the patient transport service, and most particularly, about his fervent desire never to set foot in another hospital again.
‘It’s the endless waiting around! Days pass into weeks, and let me tell you – you really start to notice the cracks! No thank you. I’d far rather take my chances here. What d’you think, Brian?’
Brian responds to his name, sits back on his haunches and angles his head up at Jeremy. Then after a moment he looks round and rests his eyes on me. He’s such a funny little dog, and the room is so bright and peaceful, I wouldn’t be all that surprised if he put a paw to his muzzle, cleared his throat and spoke.
I’d really appreciate it if you could do something for Jeremy. I’ve grown rather attached to the old chap, and I’d hate to see him suffer.
I get my obs kit out, loop the steth around my neck, and open Jeremy’s folder to the obs page.
‘Okay Brian,’ I say. ‘Let’s have a look…’